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 suggestion is from M.J Carter, author of The Stranger Vine and The Printer’s Coffin. Her latest novel, The Devil’s Feast, was published by Fig Tree on 27 October 2016 . Her suggestion is A Sultry Month by Alethea Hayter, published by Faber and Faber.

June 1846 was a month of fierce heat and political crisis in London. This sultry month was also a time of personal crisis for Carlyle and his wife, for Browning and Elizabeth Barrett and notably for the painter Benjamin Robert Haydon. A cross-section of the close-textured life of literary London in the 1840s is tellingly portrayed. Dickens, Tennyson, Browning, the Carlyles, Monckton Milnes, the actor Macready, Mary Russell Mitford, Wordsworth and Samuel Rogers frequently met during these sweltering weeks, particularly since many of them felt constrained to give parties for the best-selling German novelist, the preposterous, one-eyed Grafin Hahn-Hahn, and her travelling companion Oberst Baron Adolph von Bystram.

The secret crises and decisive actions of the members of this group affected them all, as did the weather and the political situation. The catastrophe which overcomes Haydon is, however, the central leitmotif. A fascinating and stimulating book based on contemporary letters, diaries, memoirs and newspapers, A Sultry Month pioneered a new form of group biography when it was first published in l965, which has since influenced many writers and scholars.

Here’s what she had to say:

“I’m a great fan of a book called A Sultry Month, by Alethea Hayter. It’s not a novel – but it reads like (a wonderful) one and is about a community of writers and artists. First published in 1965, and currently reissued by Faber Finds it’s an account of the swelteringly hot month of June 1846, told entirely using the letters and diaries of a series of great literary and artistic figures. It was the month Elizabeth Barrett ran away with the poet Robert Browning, the great historian Robert Carlyle and his wife Jane (who wrote the most brilliant letters) thought they might split up, and the famously appalling—and tragic-comic—history painter Benjamin Haydon decided he was a failure and tried to commit suicide. Dickens, Tennyson and others feature, and it’s all pulled together to tell a great: a perfect miniature masterpiece.”  

The next suggestion is by Kate Blackadder whose novel Stella’s Christmas Wish was published by Black and White Publishing on 3 November 2016. Her suggestion is The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger, published by Penguin.


“Amina Mazid is twenty-four when she leaves Bangladesh for Rochester, New York, and for George Stillman, the husband who met and wooed her online. It’s a twenty-first-century romance that echoes ancient traditions – the arranged marriages of her home country. And though George falls for Amina because she doesn’t ‘play games’, they will both hide a secret, and vital, part of their lives from each other.

A brilliantly observed, wry and yet deeply moving novel about the exhilerations – and complications – of getting, and staying, wed, The Newlyweds is a tour de force – a novel as rich with misunderstandings as it is with unlikely connections.”
Read more on the Penguin website.

Here’s what she had to say:

“It’s about an American man and a Bangladeshi woman who meet online and get married. There’s a culture clash inevitably as well as the getting-to-know each other but it’s subtly done, sometimes heartbreaking, and often very funny.  The novel was inspired by a chance meeting Nell Freudenberger had on a plane with a Bangladeshi woman who’d just arrived in America to marry a man she’d met on the internet. NF subsequently visited Bangladesh with the woman – the last third of the book is set there.

Highly recommended.”

So there we have it, two books that had certainly passed me by but which require further investigation. Have you read either of these? Do let me know if you’ve discovered any quiet novels you want to shout about.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. Renee says:

    This is a great idea for a post, I love finding word of mouth books and sharing with others. The Newlyweds sounds good, although the cover doesn’t do it any favors:)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      Thanks, I do love these posts, I discover so many books I might miss otherwise. Do let me know if you’ve any quiet books you’d like to shout about 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. literaryeyes says:

    I’d not heard of A Sultry Month before. Thanks! Sounds like one I’ll read.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I hope you like it. I’d never heard of it before this either. That’s what I love about this series of posts – all the potential hidden gems waiting to be discovered 🙂


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