Heard about that underground hit your friends are talking about? So often the best novels are the ones the critics overlooked. From Stoner to Desertion, discover four of our favourites - and pass them on!
Sometimes a novel crosses your path that surprises you in a way you could never imagine and stays with you for days, weeks, after the last page. Often such books have received critical acclaim, notoriety and praise but sometimes there are great novels that remain under the radar – either never achieving huge literary success or only doing so many years later.
Harper Lee’s novel, Go Set A Watchman (Harper Collins), is set to shake up the literary world when it’s published next week. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author wrote the work before her cult classic, To Kill a Mockingbird but it has remained unpublished for more than 60 years, the manuscript believed to be lost until 2014.
The story features many of the characters from To Kill a Mockingbird some twenty years after the novel is set and centres around a grown-up Scout returning home to Maycomb to visit her father amidst great social and personal turmoil.
Can’t wait to get your copy? These other relatively unknown novels are waiting to be read…
Stoner by John Williams is one of those novels that didn’t receive notoriety until much later. Published in 1965, it was Williams’ third novel and barely noticed by critics – until the last two or three years when readers on the Continent and then in the UK began to share with their friends the beauty of this unassuming work.
On the surface, Williams’ tale of a Missouri University professor who starts out life as a farmer’s son, doesn’t sound like a page-turner. The book’s protagonist, William Stoner lives a seemingly unassuming and quiet life without notable drama but author Williams’ prose is so powerful, in such an understated way, that you can’t help but be drawn in – even re-reading paragraphs to soak up the words a second time. Moving, thoughtful, compassionate and true, William Stoner’s life is both deeply meaningful and devastatingly sad so that at times his words make you want to reach out and reassure him of his strength of character and humility as a man.
The author died in 1994, never experiencing the acclaim that his novel so richly deserves. But take heart that his wife is alive to watch his posthumous success blossom. With a ringing endorsement from Tom Hanks, rumours of a film are circling. If so, let’s just hope Hollywood does it justice…
L.A Times reviewer Laila Lalami wrote of Desertion: ‘I’ve always been mystified as to why Zanzibar-born Gurnah is not as known in the U.S as he is in the UK.’ But have you stumbled upon Gurnah’s novel? Set in a time when colonial rule was on the brink of collapse in Mombassa, it explores the intensity of a relationship between a native woman and an Englishman and how the fusion of their cultures echoes through three generations. Despite its 19th century backdrop, the cross-cultural agonies the couple experience in Desertion are timeless.
Don’t be fooled by the sentimental-looking cover, Italian writer Giuseppe Pontiggia’s novel Born Twice is anything but. Yes, the story is about fatherhood but specifically centres on the unexpected and devastating experience of the difficulties that a baby with disabilities can bring. Protagnist Professor Frigerio is an unsentimental character who struggles to come to terms with the fact his son Paulo is left disabled after a breach birth.
The novel not only explores the professor’s limitations of facing his son’s condition but also the way in which society around him reacts in strange ways to Paulo’s handicap. Poignant, moving and reflective, Born Twice is a touching memoir that will undoubtedly cause you to sit up and consider the blurred boundaries between ‘normal’ and ‘disabled’ worlds.
Novels are so often a chance for true escapism and for most of us Edna Buchanan’s second book about her escapades as a crime reporter in Miami is light year’s away from our everyday lives. The Pulitzer Prize-winning writer’s tale was published in 1992 when it was unusual for a woman to cover the beat. The juxtaposition of gritty real-life crimes and the humdrum of a busy newsroom provide a window on a world we can only imagine – but Buchanan’s words are so brilliantly crafted, it’s as if you’re living and breathing that world right with her.