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.

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 comes from Julia Chapman. Her latest novel, Date with Danger, was published by Pan Macmillan on 2 April 2020.

She choose George Gissing’s New Grub Street, published by Penguin on 24 June 1976.

In New Grub Street George Gissing re-created a microcosm of London’s literary society as he had experienced it. His novel is at once a major social document and a story that draws us irresistibly into the twilit world of Edwin Reardon, a struggling novelist, and his friends and acquaintances in Grub Street including Jasper Milvain, an ambitious journalist, and Alfred Yule, an embittered critic. Here Gissing brings to life the bitter battles (fought out in obscure garrets or in the Reading Room of the British Museum) between integrity and the dictates of the market place, the miseries of genteel poverty and the damage that failure and hardship do to human personality and relationships.

Here’s what she had to say:

“Written in 1890, it follows the lives of aspiring novelists and journalists and it’s amazing how much will resonate with anyone working in that world today. He’s not a writer that gets talked about much these days and he deserves more attention!”

The second suggestion this time comes from Kate Lord Brown. Her latest novel, The Beauty Chorus, was published by Corvus in ebook on 30 April 2020.

She choose How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall, published by Faber and Faber on 2 March 2017. (Kate also adds “Her short stories are sensational – ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ or ‘Madame Zero’ are both brilliant.”)

Moving between Italy and England, the lives of four people intertwine across half a century: a dying painter considers the sacrifices and losses that have made him an enigma; a blind girl tries to make sense of a world she can no longer see; a landscape artist finds himself trapped in dangerous terrain, and a young woman embarks on a dangerous affair of darkness and sexual abandon.

Here’s what she had to say:

“This book is staggeringly accomplished and unsettling. Hall juggles four story lines: ‘The Mirror Crisis’ (Susan), ‘Translated from the Bottle Journals’ (Giorgio), ‘The Fool on the Hill’ (Peter), and ‘The Divine Vision of Annette Tambroni’, rotating them in turn…What sets this book apart is the lush prose – heady, resonant, visceral. There is no let up (I had to put the book down a few times!). Hall delineates her characters clearly, from Susan’s existential angst and search for identity (which reminded me of ‘Nausea’), to Annette’s sensual descriptions of the narcotic scent of flowers. Imagine the sensory pleasure of sniffing an armful of lilies in an Italian market – incense, flesh, overpowering but intoxicating. That’s how I felt about this book…Every page sings with luminous detail. This is not a book to skim through or consume in one sitting (if you did, I imagine the sensation would be like gorging on sweet, tropical fruit).”

So there we have it, two books that had certainly passed me by. Have you read either of them? Do you have a quiet book you’d like to shout about? Do let me know.


3 Comments Add yours

  1. I’d agree about the Gissing. I read it several years ago and it was a fascinating look at the influence of money on writing – indeed, on most things in life. He’s definitely an overlooked author!


  2. JacquiWine says:

    Thanks for the reminder about Sarah Hall. I love her short stories but have yet to read any of the novels…


  3. Totally agree Gissing needs more attention! He seems to have been forgotten. I have the Hall in my TBR, I shall move it up the pile…


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