Under the Reader’s Radar – celebrating the quiet novel

There are thousands upon thousands of books published each year. Only a small percentage of those make it to the best-seller list. That doesn’t mean that the rest aren’t worthy of reading. It may be that they are written by self-published authors who don’t have the marketing knowledge or a small independent publisher who doesn’t have the marketing budget to spread the word. Even the larger publishing houses have a limited marketing and publicity budget so can’t promote all the novels they publish to an equal degree.

I’m part of a wonderful online community called Book Connectors where bloggers, reviewers and authors can discuss all things book related. During one of the threads there was mention of ‘quiet’ books, the ones that miss out on the big publicity push. It was agreed that it was such a shame that certain books weren’t as widely read, as the reading public were missing out on hidden gems. So that sparked a germ of an idea and I decided to do a series of posts highlight titles that myself and other bloggers and authors feel may have gone under the reader’s radar. (That was the working title for this series of posts and as inspiration hasn’t struck me with anything better, its the one I’m going with for now).

So in each post I’ll aim to highlight a couple of titles that may have been missed from your reading awareness. Hopefully you’ll discover a treat or two. And please do let me know if you have any books you’d like to suggest.

Today’s first choice is suggested by Louise Walters, author of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase. Louise has chosen Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively, published by Penguin Classics and which won the 1987 Booker Prize.


“Winner of the Booker Prize, Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger is the tale of a historian confronting her own, personal history, unearthing the passions and pains that have defined her life. This Penguin Modern Classics edition includes an introduction by Anthony Thwaite.

Claudia Hampton, a beautiful, famous writer, lies dying in hospital. But, as the nurses tend to her with quiet condescension, she is plotting her greatest work: ‘a history of the world … and in the process, my own’. Gradually she re-creates the rich mosaic of her life and times, conjuring up those she has known. There is Gordon, her adored brother; Jasper, the charming, untrustworthy lover and father of Lisa, her cool, conventional daughter; and Tom, her one great love, both found and lost in wartime Egypt. Penelope Lively’s Booker Prize-winning novel weaves an exquisite mesh of memories, flashbacks and shifting voices, in a haunting story of loss and desire.”

Read more on the Penguin website.

This is what Louise had to say about it:

“It’s a novel imbued with fearlessness. It’s beautiful and unconventional and so is the book’s heroine, Claudia Hampton. It won the Booker Prize in 1987. I doubt it would win now as it’s possibly not “difficult” enough. Yet it’s technically dazzling and tells a fantastic story, always a difficult act to pull off. My very favourite novel – Jane Eyre has been relegated to second place!”

Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase is published by Hodder. You can find out more about Louise on her website.

The second choice this week is Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black by Kelly who blogs at Contrary Reader.


“Alison Hart, a medium by trade, tours the dormitory towns of London’s orbital ring road with her flint-hearted sidekick, Colette, passing on messages from beloved dead ancestors. But behind her plump, smiling persona hides a desperate woman: she knows the terrors the next life holds but must conceal them from her wide-eyed clients. At the same time she is plagued by spirits from her own past, who infiltrate her body and home, becoming stronger and nastier the more she resists… Shortlisted for the Orange Prize, Hilary Mantel’s supremely suspenseful novel is a masterpiece of dark humour and even darker secrets.”

This is what Kelly had to say.

“While ‘Wolf Hall’ gets all the Booker praise, it is this Mantel tome that I nervously hold a candle up for (it is ‘Beyond Black’ after all)….It reminds us that we ignore much of what goes on around us- whether of the horrors lurking in grey, urban anonymous spaces or in the reasons behind people’s behaviour that we choose not to consider. It challenges us not to retreat into our own warm, sanitised havens and to instead be brave and look at such peripheral, uncomfortable matters more closely so that we may understand and then confront our fears for the benefit of all….It also showcases just how versatile and skilled she is as a writer. While there is much to appreciate in terms of literary ability- both in the prose and the characterisation- it is the plot execution that I admire the most. She  not only understands the perfect way to explore these personal and societal darkness eps (as demonstrated in the story concept- Alison Hart, shady medium, is plagued by ghosts from her past and the other side) but she also knows how to tightly order events in order to maximise the stories’ effect on us as readers.”

You can read Kelly’s full review here (and please do for it is well worth a read).

Beyond Black is published by Fourth Estate.


So there we are, two new books to discover. I wasn’t familiar with either of these but I think I’ll have to add them to the TBR. Do let me know if you’ve read either of these and don’t forget to let me know about any books you’ve discovered that you think others need to know about.

13 Comments Add yours

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    Janet! You read my mind! Two neglected but possibly my favourite novels by these excellent authors! So glad you are reminding us of them!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. janetemson says:

      Glad you approve 🙂 Excellent suggestions from Louise and Kelly. I think I really need to read both 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hfineisen says:

    Moon Tiger was really a good book. Glad to see it featured here. Happy Reading!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. janetemson says:

      Thank you, glad to hear you enjoyed it too 🙂


  3. I’d echo Kelly – it’s a great shame that pre-Wolf Hall Mantel novels are overlooked.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. janetemson says:

      To be honest I’d not heard of this one before, I think her earlier books have been overshadowed by Wolf Hall. I’ve actually never read any of her books but I think I need to add Beyond Black to the reading pile 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Ah! Job done for Kelly, then!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. If anyone else reads these books, as a result of this reminder, I will be beyond pleased. Must read Moon Tiger (been in my tbrp for a while). Well done for this initiative, Janet. Public service of the best kind.



    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks for the great suggestion Kelly, they have both seemed popular ones 🙂


  5. I’m glad I put Moon Tiger on my 20 Books of Summer list now. Sounds like I’m in for a treat!


    1. janetemson says:

      I’m looking forward to seeing what you think of it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. bookbii says:

    Moon Tiger is an awesome book, I loved Claudia (possibly because she was so crochety and self-centred). And it is very cleverly done.


    1. janetemson says:

      Pleased to hear you liked it. It does sound like a good book. I’ve added it to my wishlist 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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