Magic Realism for the Masses

The wave of urban fantasy novels that began in the ’90s (‘Neverwhere’) and went into overdrive in the 2000s (twinkly vampires in suburban America) appears to be a move into the mainstream for magic realism. Rather than levitating nuns in exotic South American destinations, we now have policemen using magic and personified river goddesses in London (Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series).

It might seem strange, for a modern city can be the most prosaic of environments, but a slight change of perception reveals that wonder and mystery lies all around. A woman sitting on a wooden chair on the platform at King’s Cross tube station (District Line) was one of the strangest things I have ever seen. Walking home one evening, down a quiet suburban street where no one moved and life continued behind doors and windows, I realised that it would be no surprise to walk out of this world entirely.

The new urban fantasy novels show an inchoate sense that there is wonder all around, and that it might break in on our ordered, sensible lives at any time, with unpredictable, possibly disastrous but never dull consequences. It’s only a matter of time before someone reports seeing a unicorn in Kensal Rise, or dwarves in Dulwich.


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