The best books about strange and unusual families

Sophie Overett Author Of The Rabbits
By Sophie Overett

The Books I Picked & Why

The House of the Spirits

By Isabel Allende

Book cover of The House of the Spirits

Why this book?

Telling the epic story of three generations of a family navigating post-colonial Chile, the story features a daughter who can see the future, another born with green hair, and a few family members who don’t quite go once they are dead. This novel often feels more tapestry than story thread, interweaving the complexities of history, trauma, relationships, and individual and collective imagination into something pretty magical. 


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St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

By Karen Russell

Book cover of St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves

Why this book?

Magical realism short stories have always had their corner of the market, but Karen Russell’s debut collection really made its mark and it’s not hard to see why. It’s full of bold and dynamic stories that root us in the heart of the Florida Everglades, and spin out into tales of boys searching for the ghost of their dead sister, and wild wolf girls being reintegrated into civilisation. Families take on so many different meanings in this collection, but they always feel both fantastic and real.  


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A Tale for the Time Being

By Ruth Ozeki

Book cover of A Tale for the Time Being

Why this book?

There are two families at the heart of Ruth Ozeki’s wondrous novel, which makes sense, given the story has two different timelines. In one, is teenage Nao, whose struggles with her suicidal father and her connection with her wise and funny great grandmother are documented in a diary, which is picked up in the second timeline by Ruth, an author struggling to write a novel who becomes entranced by Nao’s diary which seems to have a whole life and character of its own. Surreal and gripping, A Tale for the Time Being is about the past and future, and about how maybe both are capable of change. 


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The Animals in That Country

By Laura Jean McKay

Book cover of The Animals in That Country

Why this book?

There’s a lot of pandemic fiction, but rarely are they as creative and thrilling as this. The zooflu that rips through Australia allows people to talk to animals while they’re sick, and when it inches towards the family-run zoo at the heart of this novel, tensions rise and bonds are tested, especially between addict Jean, her granddaughter Kimberley, and prodigal son, Lee. 


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We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

By Karen Joy Fowler

Book cover of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

Why this book?

Okay, this is a little bit of a cheat, as there’s no magical realism exactly in Karen Joy Fowler’s novel, but there’s certainly the uncanny. This story of two sisters separated during childhood trying to find each other in adulthood is wry and funny, but also immensely heartfelt and dramatic, and the twist at the halfway mark (which I won’t spoil for you!) makes this one a personal favourite. 


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