This Census-Taker by China Miéville (Del Rey, $24). Harrowing beauty and existential disorientation...it's a Miéville book, after all. As I write this I can very clearly picture two scenes from this story about a boy who witnesses a killing in his isolated rural home. Not a word is said aloud in either scene, but the interpretative stakes in both are high enough to give you a nosebleed.
The Loft by Marlen Haushofer, translated by Amanda Prantera (Quartet [London], $17). Some writing holds such resonant silences, and each reverie-inducing book on this list at some point enmeshes the reader in events that are impossible to live aloud. The narrator of this brief and unexpectedly brutal novel is trying to recover from things she learned during a period of mutism — the sort of things that get said when a speaker is confident that you're unable to make any verbal response of your own.
The Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28). What makes this novel about an opera singer such an exquisite combination of fin de siècle romp and meditation on artistic process, you ask? Loads of things, but topmost in my mind for now is its simultaneously arch and keenly felt rendering of the heroine's journey from the discovery of her extraordinary gift into voluntary muteness and then out again, back into song.
A Useless Man: Selected Stories by Sait Faik Abasiyanik, translated by Maureen Freely and Alexander Dawe (Archipelago, $18). From a speechless encounter with death a man gleans this: "She was just a little cold. We have nothing to fear, he thought. She was just a little cold."
Half of a Lifelong Romance by Eileen Chang, translated by Karen S. Kingsbury (Anchor, $16). The silences in this novel, set in 1930s Shanghai, emerge from an extraordinary sensitivity to language and its limitations. So many crucial words unheard or unsaid — a host of flames kindling and dying in silence.
Duke by Sara Tilley (Pedlar, $22). This novel, which reinterprets and fictionalizes the early 20th-century journals of a nomadic Newfoundland native, tells and untells its tale in such a way that the story's silences shimmer with immediacy.
—Helen Oyeyemi is the award-winning author of five novels, including The Icarus Girl and 2014's Boy, Snow, Bird — a reimagining of "Snow White." Her new book, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, is a collection of nine interlocking stories.