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.

When I asked Jackie Fraser to pick a quiet novel she wanted to shout about, she found she couldn’t stick to just one. So instead of me asking her to narrow it down, or selecting one herself, I’ve decided to include them all. So thanks to Jackie who provided a perfect example of one of the joys of reading, the discovery of so many wonderful novels and authors, so many it’s hard to choose from. Jackie’s latest novel, The Bookshop of Second Chances, was published by Simon & Schuster on 2 September 2021. You can read my Q&A with Jackie here.

Her first choice is  A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof by Roger Clarke, published by Penguin on 3 October 2013.

What explains spectral sightings? Why do we fear the supernatural? What proof is there? Growing up in a haunted house, Roger Clarke spent much of his childhood trying to see a ghost. From the terrifying true events behind Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw to the frenzy of the Cock Lane poltergeist, he takes us on a journey of belief with ghosts of every kind.

Here’s what she had to say:

“I absolutely loved this – it’s exactly the sort of thing I like, deeply researched, full of really fascinating details, some interesting thoughts about what sorts of ghosts are fashionable and when, and why that might be. So it’s sociology as much as anything else, and both erudite and witty. If you’re remotely interested in the history of ghost sightings, the history of writing about ghost sightings, and the class implications of ghost sightings, this is for you.”

The second novel Jackie choose is The Maker of Swans by Paraic O’Donnell, published by Weidenfeld & Nicholson on 12 January 2017.

The world had forgotten Mr Crowe and his mysterious gifts. Until he killed the poet.

He lived a secluded life in the fading grandeur of his country estate. His companions were his faithful manservant and his ward, Clara, a silent, bookish girl who has gifts of her own.

Now Dr Chastern, the leader of a secret society, arrives at the estate to call Crowe to account and keep his powers in check. But it is Clara’s even greater gifts that he comes to covet most.

She must learn to use them quickly, if she is to save them all.

Here’s what she had to say:

“This is great. I love a mysterious old house with equally mysterious inhabitants. This reminded me of Gormenghast, Bitter Orange, and lots of other things that I can’t remember at this precise moment. I had no idea what was going to happen, it was great. Clara is a fantastic character.”

Jackie didn’t stop there. She also choose Claire Fuller’s and Jane Gardam’s novels.

Finally she recommended the novels of Nia Willams. Her most recent novel, Touched, published on 9 February 2021.

Robin’s life has taken an unexpected turn. There’s nine-year-old Prosper, with his strange questions and uncertain future. There’s Smelly Joe, setting up home under a tree. There’s a resident ghost. And there’s an unwanted gift from Robin’s mother. This isn’t the kind of gift you can recycle, or hide in a drawer. This is an abandoned asylum. A tale of eccentric relatives, lost friends, surprising love stories and the small insanities of everyday life.

Here’s what she had to say:

“Complex and delightful tale of the madness, sorrow and joy of everyday life. Williams once again creates a world entire and convincing; if you like Jane Gardam you’ll like this too.”

So there we have it, a whole range of authors and novels to choose from. Have you read any? Do you have a quiet book you’d like to shout about? Do let me know.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. I’m adding A Natural History of Ghosts: 500 Years of Hunting for Proof to my TBR, thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I hope you enjoy it 🙂


  2. heavenali says:

    I love a quiet novel, and I’m sure I have read lots. So, of course my mind has gone blank. One writer who comes to mind though is Anita Brookner. Novels like A Fortnight in September and Cheerful Weather for the Wedding from Persephone would probably count. Also I loved Midwinter by Fiona Melrose a year or so ago.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      I’d definitely agree with you about the Persephone Books. I’ve not read the others. Thanks for sharing 🙂


  3. BookerTalk says:

    The cover of The Maker of Swans is glorious. For my quiet book I’ll suggest One Moonlit Night by Caradog Prichard which is about a young boy growing up in a Welsh slate community. Very atmospheric, at times humeroud but also poignant

    Liked by 1 person

    1. janetemson says:

      It really is! I think One Moonlit Night features on a previous Under the Reader’s Radar. It does sound great. Thanks for the suggestion 🙂


      1. BookerTalk says:

        Does it – now I’m curious about who would have nominated that.


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