The best books that are riddles, wrapped in a mystery, inside an engima

Who am I?

When I started writing The Majesties, I wanted the narrative to be a continual excavation of secrets, one after the other. This sort of multi-layered story has always intrigued me and my fascination with it has influenced all my written work so far. I am particularly fascinated by books where characters unconsciously keep secrets from themselves, and where the line between the “real” and the fantastic is blurred beyond recognition. Sometimes it’s not just about solving a mystery, but articulating its mysteriousness—giving it flesh and bone, stitching its parts together, and bringing it to life through words.


I wrote...

The Majesties

By Tiffany Tsao,

Book cover of The Majesties

What is my book about?

Gwendolyn and Estella have always been as close as sisters can be. Growing up in a wealthy, eminent, and sometimes deceitful family, they’ve relied on each other for support and confidence. But now Gwendolyn is lying in a coma, the sole survivor of Estella’s poisoning of their whole clan.

As Gwendolyn struggles to regain consciousness, she desperately retraces her memories, trying to uncover the moment that led to this shocking act. Was it their aunt’s mysterious death at sea? Estella’s unhappy marriage to a dangerously brutish man? Or were the shifting loyalties and unspoken resentments at the heart of their opulent world too much to bear? Can Gwendolyn, at last, confront the carefully buried mysteries in their family’s past and the truth about who she and her sister really are?

The books I picked & why

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Ilustrado

By Miguel Syjuco,

Book cover of Ilustrado

Why this book?

A multi-level work of genius. On the surface, this book is about someone trying to solve a murder. But Ilustrado is so much more than just your usual murder mystery. The book does more than use Philippine colonial and contemporary history as the backdrop; it weaves this history into the fabric of the narrative itself. As the protagonist uncovers buried facts about his late mentor and as well as his own past, he also discovers just how inseparable Art is from the political intrigue and social violence in which it is birthed. And the twist at the end explodes the whole book.


Permafrost

By SJ Norman,

Book cover of Permafrost

Why this book?

This haunting collection of short stories left a faint chill in my bones for weeks—very aptly, given its name. None of the seven tales are conclusive, or wrapped up neatly. It feels as if there is always a kernel inside each one that remains tucked out of sight, no matter how many outer layers are peeled off—or in the case of one of the stories, no matter how much hide is flayed away.


Cursed Bunny

By Bora Chung, Anton Hur (translator),

Book cover of Cursed Bunny

Why this book?

I read this book late at night while recovering from jetlag, and it was either the perfect book to read late at night while my mind’s guard was down or the worst book to do this with. The stories are hilarious, but also often horrifying, and ingeniously fantastic. A bunny lamp that curses whoever touches it; a woman who gets pregnant from taking birth control pills; a boy who bleeds gold when he drinks his sister’s blood—these stories are sure to keep your brain lit up long after your head has hit the pillow. 


Hellfire

By Leesa Gazi, Shabnam Nadiya (translator),

Book cover of Hellfire

Why this book?

This novel starts out in an almost Mrs. Dallowayish way—Lovely has gone out for the day to buy something. Then you realise that Lovely at the age of forty has never gone out by herself for a day. Then, as the day unfolds, the novel brings you backward into the past as you find out about Lovely and Beauty’s paranoid and controlling mother, the oppressiveness of their home life, the dark secret at the heart of their parents’ marriage…


Transmutation: Stories

By Alex Difrancesco,

Book cover of Transmutation: Stories

Why this book?

I picked up Transmutation when it was very difficult for any book to hold my interest—during the constant low-level depression that colored the seemingly endless extended lockdown in Sydney in 2021. It held me spellbound. I had an inkling it would: I adored DiFrancesco’s earlier work, Psychopomps, which I read in 2019. The stories of Transmutation are electric and warm and sad. Like the other stories and novels on this list, they never fully answered my questions, never wrapped anything up in a neat bow. They left me immensely satisfied.


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