Searching for a work of metafiction I read about five years ago, probably published originally in the early 2000s. It's a bizarre fable about a young man who develops an obsession with a girl, a stranger to him, who is in a coma. I seem to think there may have been a motorcycle involved. He tells her a series of increasingly lurid and dreamlike fairy tales about him and her, where each story is nested inside the last, like the Arabian Nights.

If I recall correctly, the characters are named only with letters, and even the "base level" of reality has a strongly allegorical feel, implying that each of alternate fantasy versions of the story is as valid as the original. It seems like Kafka and/or Nabokov may have been an influence. I believe the narrator has a mundane job of some sort, like accountant, and is apprenticed to his uncle.

I didn't find it entirely successful as a book—partly because it never felt grounded in any stable reality—but it was memorable, at least in its conceit, if not by title and author.

  • I tried to edit a little, but there wasn't much to hold onto detail-wise, the entire book deliberately unfolded like a surreal fever dream. And while I think it would have been a stronger book if it had started and ended in a more realist universe, I would say that even the ground level of this book was a fantasy. May 3, 2018 at 13:27
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    There's a list here of multi-layer nested stories, but none of them really matches your description. Was this story in English or translated? Any idea where it was set (assuming the "outermost" layer of the story was in the real world)?
    – Rand al'Thor
    May 8, 2018 at 23:16

1 Answer 1


Pretty sure this is The Way Through Doors by Jesse Ball. It's from 2009 and everything you mentioned is there.

It's about a man appointed 'municipal inspector' by his uncle who then witnesses a young woman getting into an accident. He poses as her boyfriend and looks after her (she's kind of concussed), but he has to keep her awake or she'll slip into a coma. To that end, he starts telling her stories within stories, which feature him and her. And from then on it does become quite surreal and experimental.

You can find it here.

  • Thanks, Walt! I actually did end up locating this eventually, I just forgot to come back and update the question. This is indeed the correct answer. :) Jul 29, 2020 at 13:07

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