'Last week, in another part of the city, a human head turned up.' The severed head which opens Peter Conrad's first novel suggests that contemporary fiction might be defined by its increasing convergence with the weird tale, the story based on a deliberate disruption of the natural order. The head is anonymous, sealed in a plastic bag, and being used as a football by a group of boys. The other novels in this batch begin in a similarly disturbing manner. Allen Kurzweil's A Case of Curiosities opens with the amputation of the hero's finger. A historical novel set in pre-Revolutionary France, it shares with Lawrence Norfolk's recent Lemprière's Dictionary the knowledge of some hitherto unsuspected developments in 18th-century robotics. In Paul Micou's Rotten Times the main character suffers from a hyperactive access of memory, known as Tourraine's Syndrome, brought on while he was shaving in an aircraft flying through a thunderstorm. Even Carol Shields's The Republic of Love, by far the most mundane of these novels, starts off with a sentence that could easily have graced a Science Fiction magazine: 'As a baby, Tom Avery had 27 mothers'.
LRB 28 May 1992 | PDF Download