Friday, 31 March 2017

Underrated Books

On Tuesday 4 April, we're having our regular #triskeletuesday Twitter chat. The theme is #underratedbooks. These could be lesser-known works by famous authors, undiscovered gems or simply a book more people should read.

In preparation for Tuesday, we reached out to some of our favourite people and asked them to recommend some underrated books. Here are the results.

Testament of Experience by Vera Brittain. Sitting in the deep shade of Testament of Youth, this book sets a female perspective on British politics and social history between 1925 and 1950, and is actually better; more mature, less floridly romantic and more historically analytical.
Vera Brittain was a woman cursed to live in interesting times. Her contemporary insights into a male-dominated world that was changing virtually before her eyes are both fascinating and original. – Perry Iles

Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. A book I think of often and compare in my head to the classic To Kill A Mockingbird. Told through the eyes of a teenage Charlie Bucktin about his meeting with the enigmatic Jasper Jones and the secret they go on to share. I also loved the evocative sense of place set in a hot summer of 1965. I don't know how I came to read it several years ago, but I remember still the emotions and rollercoaster of a journey the book took a reader on. I've never read anything since by the author but I'm now tempted to research him! – Gillian Hamer

The Eclipse Of The Century by Jan Mark. A man has an accident and while unconscious has an out-of-body experience. When he recovers he sets out to find the place for real, which turns out to be in a remote Soviet country. The place is full of poetic bizarreness; it could be an afterlife, or it might be real. The novel has mystery, humour and poignance. – Roz Morris

The Cowards by Josef Škvorecký. A wonderful evocation of what it is like to be a teenager - self-obsessed, image conscious, writhing with hormones and muddled ideals. When all that comes hard up against the brutal realities of War, it’s as if Holden Caulfield has walked into the pages of Catch 22. – Catriona Troth

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes is an eternal underground classic, driven by the same beast that has always had to be the sole occupant of the driver’s seat if I’m to be interested in even starting to write a novel or novella – the desire to create something whose core reason-for-being is to be explosively and irreducibly itself to the max, with such force and beauty and rightness that it had to be what it is, and that serves up a gigantic and celebratory fuck-you to the world, expressing both the darkness and the brightness of its creator’s unique experience of being alive. – Rohan Quine

The Empress of Ice Cream by Anthony Capella. So well titled but I've never heard of anyone else recommend or speak of the author. It's a beautiful tale of workmanship, passion, love and ice cream. – JD Smith

My eye was caught by Marko Kloos’ FRONTLINE series, recommended as Heinlein-esque. Now as Heinlein is one of my much loved authors I tried the first of the series and then promptly sent for the remaining four.
If you are a fan of well written military science-fiction then this fast-moving, battle-filled war against aliens seeking to conquer Earth, is is well worth a tryout. – JW Hicks

Not Forgetting the Whale by John Ironmonger. From the opening pages, I knew that I was in safe hands, and the reason I knew this was because I could hear a narrator in my head reading to me. It is a gift that John Ironmonger shares with John Irving. Ironmonger depicts the peculiarities of small communities with great authenticity (think Whiskey Galore! and Local Hero). The scenes on the bank’s trading floors are in total contrast but are equally compelling. I particularly enjoyed Joe Haak’s relationship with the bank’s elderly partner/owner, Lew Kaufmann, who turns out to not to be part of the money-grabbing slick set, but something of a philosopher. This is a gem of a novel: eccentric, quirky, thought-provoking and uplifting. Put it right at the top of your reading list! - Jane Davis

Annie on my Mind by Nancy Garden - a same-sex love story for teenagers, banned in the US - burned in fact in Kansas (naturally). It's the most beautifully written, tender, authentic and happily-ending novel - published in 1982, when then was so little (zero) affirming literature reflecting the lives of young lesbians. Gorgeous, gorgeous book. Also getting me through the 80s were Sarah Dreher's wonderful Stoner McTavish magical/detective novels, and Fiona Cooper's Rotary Spokes novels. Both have eccentric, tough, vulnerable lesbian protagonists - both are beautifully written, very funny - and provide a sexy same-sex narrative which doesn't involve suicide, self-harm, shame or finally getting a husband. – Sophie Wellstood

Trust Me by Lesley Pearse explores the scandal of the mid-twentieth century whereby children were sent from the UK to Australia, permanently, often without their parents' permission. Young British sisters, Dulcie and May Taylor are sent first to an orphanage, then shipped off to Australia to begin a new life. But the promises of a better life turn out to be lies as the girls are betrayed by everyone they believed they could trust. A hefty book, I found this a very moving and heart-breaking story and couldn’t put it down. - Liza Perrat

Kleinzeit by Russell Hoban. Russell Hoban has a faithful following but never, to my mind, achieved the sort of fame he truly deserved. His novel Kleinzeit (1974) is funny, dark, surreal and written in a style like no other. Kleinzeit lies in Hospital haunted by Death in the shape of a monkey, talking to God and thinking about Underground and Word. The capital letters personify the 'big guys' and make them characters, companions and co-conspirators in Kleinzeit's struggle to endear himself to Sister, regain his creativity, and get back to the time when 'harmony took place'. - Barbara Scott-Emmett

The Necrophiliac by Gabriele Wittkop. This gem was originally published almost half a century ago but has recently received a new translated edition. As is so often the case with books that are unique, it is almost impossible to describe, but I could attempt by saying this is the kind of book Perfume could have been had its author had a keener aesthetic and emotional sensibility. Revolting and shocking precisely because nothing about it is either revolting or shocking, yet it manages to treat such difficult subject matter exquisitely without ever veering to the tacky, the lurid, or the sensational. One of the few books I've read that made me think "I genuinely don't know how you did that but I will dedicate myself to learning."
S/N/D by Søren Melville. This remarkable book comprises two seemingly unconnected novellas that can only be described as dripping from the page. Ice-bound, claustrophobic, dank tales of madness, misgendering, vampirism, and the rhythms of the freezing and unfreezing of the human heart, this is a book that pulls off remarkable feats that should not be possible - at once modern and minimalist, gothic and sweeping, an emotional epic that is blank and despairing. It is as perfect an example of the writer's craft as you will find but to reduce it to that would be a heinous flattening of its extraordinary contours. - Dan Holloway

Which #underratedbooks would you add to the list? Let us know on Tuesday, 19.30 - 20.00 GMT. Just log onto Twitter, search for #underratedbooks and join the conversation.


  1. Nightwood would be top of that list for me. A wonderful book and I stumbled on it completely by accident.

  2. Glad to hear that, John - there's only one Djuna!