Observatory Mansions

Thirty-seven-year-old Francis Orme works by day as a street performer, earning money as a “statue of whiteness” in the park (while secretly stealing worthless items for his own personal museum), and still lives with his parents and a several misfits in the once magnificent ancestral estate, Observatory Mansions, now a crumbling apartment block surrounded by encroaching European city life. The lonely characters populating this haunted house are suddenly brought together by a surprise visitor, Anna Tap—with new twists (notably a relationship with Francis) forming out of the chaos.

British author Edward Carey has fashioned an entertaining mix of Gothic horror and romance with this surrealist fairytale about memory and how it can sustain only so much. Written in small sections with taut sentences and startling imagination, the book is full of repressed, distinctly British characters (some with murderous impulses) who evoke shades of Beckett, Ionesco and Georges Perec. But Carey really shines when dealing with his main protagonist’s isolated world of loneliness, which he creates with skill and touching empathy.

Sprinkled throughout the text are cool little detailed illustrations of creepy character portraits done by the author, who once worked in a wax museum and now lives and works as a playwright and illustrator in London. Now in paperback ($14), his debut novel has been nominated for the B&N Discover Great New Writers Award.