Top Ten Underrated Books

“Far too many people these days have grown used to boring, mass-produced cats, which may bounce with health and nourishing vitamins but aren’t a patch on the good old cats you used to get.”

Terry Pratchett

This is a hard one, because I think most of the books I read are quite mainstream. Still – here goes.

  1. Sabriel – Garth Nix. Why hasn’t everyone in the world read this book? Sabriel is fantastic – a brilliant SFF narrative with a strong, complex female character and a sarcastic cat. If you have any interest in YA or SFF at all, you should be reading this.
  2. Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake. I used to get blank looks when I mentioned that I was writing about Peake for my dissertation. Which is a shame and a surprise, because Peake is a seminal fantasy writer, his prose dense and atmospheric, his sense of place acute, his imagery crisp and surprising. But be warned – approach his books as you’d approach The Lord of the Rings, with patience and plenty of time on your hands. It’s no swift read, nor an easy one – but worth it in the end.
  3. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe. A lot of people (mostly, it has to be said, literary critics) sneer at Radcliffe’s novels. These people have almost universally not actually read anything she wrote. Or if they did, they weren’t paying attention. Udolpho is a novel which is far richer and stranger than the caricatures would have it: an 18th-century Gothic novel that is everything you’d expect from that description, and at the same time nothing that you’d expect. Hypnotic and lush and dreamlike – but another one you need patience for.
  4. The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever – Stephen Donaldson. I will sing the praises of Donaldson’s series until the skies fall. For me, it was a case of exactly the right book at exactly the right time; Covenant and Linden and the Land popped up just when I needed them. They are wide and deep and imperfect and full of striving and seemingly largely forgotten amid fantasy circles. Like Tolkien but with psychology.
  5. Night Film – Marisha Pessl. I’m realising that all of these novels are very long and very Gothic – but that’s what fascinates me: the excess of the Gothic, the books that press on the borders of the knowable and the speakable. Night Film might be considered a piece of meta-Gothic: a found-footage type narrative which twists and turns beneath you, it’s constantly interrogating the edges of the write-able. I love it.
  6. The Clockwork Rocket – Greg Egan. I’m not quite sure why I’ve never heard of this before. Well, actually I am: a novel that reinvents quantum physics is never going to gain much mainstream traction. But Rocket is a fascinating, feminist story about Women who do Science and that, Constant Reader, is all too rare.
  7. A Madness of Angels – Kate Griffin. We’re back in the land of Gothic bagginess. Griffin’s urban fantasy series is a thing of ragged beauty, and its magic is just perfect – the rhythms of the city are endlessly hypnotic.
  8. Our Mutual Friend – Charles Dickens. Nobody has read this one (no, it’s all Oliver Twist and Great Expectations and Bleak House out there), but it’s great: sentimental and angry and sprawling and funny and sharp and a cracking great tale to boot. One of his best, I think, and a reasonably good place to start if you’re new to Dickens.
  9. Jack Glass – Adam Roberts. The other novel of his I’ve read, By Light Alone, was a little indigestible; but Jack Glass is clever, witty, assured and generally awesome. Plus, Roberts is a professional literary critic, so the book’s exploration of what SF does is really interesting. Actually, I must read this again.
  10. The Unadulterated Cat – Terry Pratchett. A little-known minor work by the late great humourist, The Unadulterated Cat is simply a charmingly illustrated little book about cats. That’s all. That’s enough.

(The theme of this post was suggested by the Broke and the Bookish’s weekly meme Top Ten Tuesday.)

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