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.

The first suggestion this week comes from Jon Teckman. Jon is the author of Ordinary Joe, published by Borough Press. Jon’s suggestion is Butterfly Fish by Irenosen Okojie, published by Jacaranda Books.


“After the sudden death of  her mother, London photographer Joy struggles to pull the threads of her life back together, with the support of her kind but mysterious neighbour Mrs Harris. Joy’s fortune begins to change when she receives an unexpected inheritance from her mother: a huge sum of money, her grandfather’s diary and a unique brass warrior’s head from the nineteenth century kingdom of Benin.

Joy’s search for the origins of the head take us on a journey through time as dark family secrets come to light. Joy unearths the ties between her mother, grandfather, the wife of the king, and the brass head’s pivotal connection to them all.

A spiritual successor to the tales of Marquez, Butterfly Fish masterfully combines elements of traditional Nigerian storytelling and magical realism in a multigenerational take of the legacy of inheritance.

Haunting and compelling, Butterfly Fish is a richly told story of love and hope, of family secrets, power, political upheaval, loss and coming undone.”

Here’s what he has to say:

“I met Irenosen at an author’s event and we swapped signed copies of our books and I was absolutely knocked out by her skill in telling what is, in many ways, a straightforward tale of a young Nigerian girl in London but interwoven with many other strands, including a wonderful magical element.  It couldn’t be any more different from Ordinary Joe but I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who likes a good story told in effortlessly brilliant prose.”

Butterfly Fish recently won the 2016 Betty Trask award, an annual award given to a debut author under the age of 35.

The second suggestion is from Tracey Sinclair. Tracey is the author of the Cassandra Bick Chronicles, Dark Date, Wolf Night and Angel Falls. Tracey’s suggestion is Geek Love by Katherine Dunn, published by Abacus.


“A special twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Katherine Dunn’s extraordinary cult classic, with a new introduction by the author.

Lil Binewski, born a Boston aristocrat, was in her time the most stylish of geeks. That is to say she made her living by biting the heads off live chickens in front of a carnival audience. This she gave up for doting motherhood, because she and her fairground-owning husband had a money spinning idea. Throughout each pregnancy Lil gobbles pesticides, experiments with drugs and douses herself with radiation to ensure that she prodcues infants grotesque enough to keep the turnstiles clicking. She does.

Arturo the Aqua Boy is a limbless megalomaniac, Electra and Iphigenia are musically gifted Siamese twins with a penchant for prostitution and Fortunato is possessed of stange telekinetic powers. Their story- by turns shocking, tender, touching and cruel- is narrated by their sister Olympia. She is a bald, hunchbacked, albino dwarf.”

Here’s what Tracey had to say about Geek Love:

“Put aside any thoughts of Rainbow Rowell type heroines, of nerdy girls in glasses trying to find romance – Katherine Dunn’s classic American novel may seem misleadingly titled now, unconcerned as it is with popular culture and cute, quirky girls who like gaming and Star Wars, but it has nothing to do with modern geek culture. She is using ‘geek’ in one of its earlier, uglier incarnations – a ‘carney folk’ term for a sideshow entertainer who makes their money biting the heads off live chickens.

If that hasn’t deterred you already, read on. Geek Love is superficially a grotesque and brutal book, based on a central idea many would find sick, if not actively appalling – Lil, a carnival geek, and her fairground owning husband decide to deliberately spawn their own freak show, with Lil sabotaging her pregnancies so as to have children whose deformities can be monetised in their travelling show. But out of such a disturbing idea, Dunn crafts a book that is simply stunning.

In part a story of unrequited love, at its heart it is a surprisingly tender but unflinching examination of family. And although this particular family may be more outlandish than most, trapped together in the unique, fast disappearing world of the carnival, they offer a microcosm of ego, jealously, thwarted ambition and petty rows that will be familiar to all. It is a challenging, thought provoking novel – particularly around issues of disability and sexuality – and it’s certainly not for everyone. But it’s not a book you can be ambivalent about: you may well discard it in the opening pages, disgusted by the very idea – but for those who allow themselves to fall under its sway, it’s a story you’ll never forget.”

So there we have it, two more books that had passed me by but which sound great. Have you read either Butterfly Fish or Geek Love? Let me know what you make of this week’s suggestions and do let me know if you have a quiet book you’d like to champion.

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