On a stormy night in 1813, a doctor is called to the aid of two prostitutes in childbirth. To one is born a healthy girl, Henriette, to the other, what can only be described as a monster: a boy, Hercules, deaf-mute and hideously deformed, and with the power to read minds. This is a picaresque fable of the love that grows between Hercules and Henriette during their childhood, and which will entwine their fates for ever. Vallgren paints a cast of grotesques in a magical and atmospheric tour of nineteenth-century Europe: the swags and tails of the bordello, where Hercules is born; the phantasmagoria of the freak show, with which he travels; the sinister grandeur of the Jesuit monasteries, in which he finds both shelter and peril; the squalor of the asylum, where he finds only pain. "The Horrific Sufferings of the Mind-reading Monster Hercules Barefoot" tells of social oppression, official corruption and religious persecution, but is, at its heart, a marvellous love story. Moving, uplifting, at times dark and macabre, this novel stretches the bounds of imagination, presenting the bizarre as the everyday and leading you through it like a child, wide-eyed in wonder at a carnival. But though filled with curiosities, it is nevertheless a very human story of love, hate and raw emotion, and is the most extraordinary book you will read this year.