The Modern Novel home page » My Lists home page » Neglected books/authors
There is already a superb site devoted to neglected books and I have freely stolen from it. My intention on this page is to draw attention, as neglectedbooks.com does so well, to some books/authors I feel have been too much neglected. Of course, the question arises as to what is neglected. Take the case of William Faulkner, for example. No-one could say that he is neglected. He won the Nobel Prize. Most if not all of his books are in print, with all of his novels available through the very wonderful Library of America. But do people read him? Two of the largest and oldest book review websites – Danny Yee’s Book Reviews and The Complete Review do not have a single one of his books under review. A browse around other blogs/literary websites shows a similar dearth of his books under review. Doubtless, some would argue that as his books were published so long ago or because of his fame, meaning that everyone has read him, it is not appropriate to review him. However, my own very crude researches indicate that, outside the South of the United States, where he is read, not many people from English-speaking countries do read him. (The French do, of course, read him.) So is he neglected? My answer is a qualified yes, as far too few people have read the man that I and others consider one of the finest twentieth century authors. The point of this is to show that the definition of what is neglected is not straightforward and could include a vast array of authors whose works are still in print and still read.
There are, of course, many, many neglected books, so I will limit my choices to those on this site (but I will not include Faulkner) and divide them into two categories. The first category will consist of several books originally written in English, which I feel have been too much neglected. I am treating books originally written in English separately, as I feel that most books originally written in a language other than English are already neglected, at least by English-speaking readers. The second list will consist of several books on this site which have not been translated into English and, in my opinion, should be. These lists will be amended now and then.
Neglected books – my list
Mary Butts: Ashe of Rings
One of the great twentieth century English novels, yet surprisingly unknown and unread and only in print thanks to McPherson & Company, a small US publisher.
Syl Cheney-Coker: The Last Harmattan of Alusine Dunbar
Oh dear, the only African novel on this list but a very fine one it is, using magic realism/fantasy/fable to criticise the lust for power and colonialism and to extol sexual love
Ellen Douglas: A Family’s Affairs
Douglas should be in this list for all her novels but I have chosen this one, her first, as a fascinating account of a Southern US family. No fireworks but a superbly written novel.
George Friel: Glasgow Trilogy
With all your Welshes and Kelmans and Grays and Ali Smiths, Friel has got a bit lost in the Scottish novel shuffle, which is a pity as this trilogy, though very realist, shows the grimy side of Glasgow, though it is not too grimy.
David Gascoyne: Opening Day
The youngest author on this site, with Gascoyne being only sixteen when he wrote it but is surprisingly mature. It is a poetical novel, telling the story of one day in the life of a young man who wants to write a novel about one day in his life. And here it is.
William Gerhardie: The Polyglots
If I had to pick only one neglected novel, this could well be it. It gets on all sorts of neglected books list, particularly those chosen by writers themselves, but somehow never seems to make it out of the pack. Chekhov as written by an English novelist and the best English comic novel of the twentieth century.
H L Humes: The Underground City
The best World War II novel bar none. Humes was a bit of a strange character but, before he went off the rails, this showed that he knew how to write.
David Ireland: Bloodfather
Like Ellen Douglas, he should be selected for all of his work. Gritty realism, the struggle of the downtrodden and, in this case, and a serious discussion of freedom well before Franzen.
Gail Jones: Dreams of Speaking
It is not neglected in Australia but outside that country, relatively unknown. It is the most recent book in this list so things could change. A wonderful novel on technology and it beauty but also its challenges.
Deirdre Madden: The Birds of Innocent Wood
The only Irish novel on this list and full of Celtic doom and gloom but, nevertheless, a wonderful book which is sadly too unknown.
James Purdy: Cabot Wright Begins
The Great Unrecognised American Novel, a novel about sex and identity and communication, key themes of the twentieth century and Purdy’s finest exposition of these issues.
Dorothy Richardson: Pilgrimage
An impressionistic novel (or, rather, thirteen novels) that predates Woolf and Joyce and tells the story of a woman and of the world. Perhaps a female, English USA?
Chris Scott: Bartleby
A fun, picaresque Canadian novel, written by an English-born writer, dealing with identity and games in a decidedly post-modernist style.
Joanna Scott: Manikin
As with other novelists mentioned here, I could have selected any one of her books. I fail to see why she does not command the attention she deserves. Her novels are intelligent, original, imaginative and a joy to read. This is one of her best.
Rupert Thomson: Dreams of Leaving
Thomson’s first novel was stunningly original, political but not too much in your face political, dealing with the country versus the city in an original way.
W V Tilsley: Other Ranks
The only World War I novel in this list, though I could have added several more. It is here because it is obscure, very difficult to find and long out of print. It tells of the grim nature of war – death, gas, frost bite, continual shelling and the smell of death. He leaves you in no doubt that, in his view, war is definitely not glorious.
R.G. Vliet: Soledad (aka Solitudes)
If he had lived, he may have had the success of Cormac McCarthy but he died of cancer while still relatively young but left this first-class Western classic, worthy of the great McCarthy himself.
Edward Whittemore: Sinai Tapestry
Fun and laughter and lots of politics in the Middle East, from the early days up to the twentieth century. Whittemore spares no-one in his mockery.
Henry Williamson: The Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight
Williamson’s reputation took a nosedive when he started supporting Hitler (Hitler has a cameo in this series) and recovered with his Tarka The Otter and other nature books, for which he is now remembered. But it is this chronicle that should cement his place as the great chronicler of rural England in the late nineteenth/twentieth century.
Books that should be translated into English – my list
Jorge Enrique Adoum: Entre Marx y una mujer desnuda [Between Marx and a Naked Woman]
It may be the best title on this site but it is also a good read – a book about a writer who is thinking of writing a book about a writer, as the author describes it.
Mario Benedetti: Gracias por el fuego [Thanks for the Light]
Another Latin American writer who has slipped between the cracks as far as the English-speaking world is concerned, either because he does not do magic realism or because he is from a smaller country. This novel is about politics, particularly the corrupt politics of Uruguay but also with a knock at the USA, but also about father-son relationships and, as with most of his books, superbly written.
Rachid Boudjedra: الزقاق معركة (La Prise de Gibraltar) [The Capture of Gibraltar]
Algeria is, of course, another country that has produced many interesting novels, few of which have been translated into English. This is about the capture of Gibraltar, as seen through the eyes of a twentieth century namesake of the man responsible for the capture.
Carmen Boullosa: El complot de los románticos [The Romantics’ Plot]
Several of Boullosa’s novel have ben translated into English but none of the recent ones. This was published in 2009 and, like all her other works, should be translated. It is anarchic, inventive, post-modernist, hilarious fun and superbly written. To be fair, her use of language would cause a headache for any translator and it has not been translated into any other language.
Volker Braun: Hinze-Kunze-Roman [The Tom, Dick and Harry Novel]
Braun’s satire on East Germany, written while East Germany still existed but not published till after, is a witty satire with an odd couple, which you can read in French but not English.
Jurij Brezan: Krabat oder Die Verwandlung der Welt [Krabat or the Transformation of the World]
The Sorbians are one of those many nations of the world who have got squeezed out of the world’s consciousness (and conscience) but they still survive and, fortunately, still write. This one is a wonderful story, based on an old Sorbian myth but transposed to the modern world. As far as I am aware there is no modern Sorbian novel available in English.
Alfredo Bryce Echenique: La vida exagerada de Martín Romaña [The Exaggerated Life of Martín Romaña]
Though a couple of his other novels have been translated into English, this one has not and covers favourite Latin American themes – Paris and the struggle between political commitment and artistic achievement.
Héctor Aguilar Camín: La Guerra de Galio [Galio’s War]
It is amazing that none of Camín’s novels has been translated into English. This novel, as far as I can determine, has not been translated into any other language. It is not your typical Latin American novel – no magic realism, for example – but it is a superb political novel about Mexico in the 1970s and one that should be read more widely.
Alberto Chimal: La torre y el jardín [The Tower and the Garden]
What? Another Mexican novel? All sorts of exciting things are happening in the Mexican novel but, if you do not read Spanish, you would not know it. This is one of the most daringly original novels I have ever read and, as you can see from this site, I have read quite a few novels. It is a novel where a building has a key role to play (think House of Leaves) but it is a lot more than that. The author tells me that it has not been translated into any other language and that my review is the only review of it in English. How sad!
Mohammed Dib: Cours sur la rive sauvage [A Walk on the Wild Side]
One of the great Algerian writers but so few of his books have been translated into English. This one takes the idea of the familiar suddenly seeming strange, foreign, and does it brilliantly.
Moussa Ould Ebnou: L’amour impossible [Impossible Love]
A Mauritanian science fiction novel was never likely to be translated into English or, for that matter, any other language but Ebnou does a very creditable job of writing a novel in the Huxley et al. style and this work should be better known.
Regina Ezera: Aka [The Well]
Not a great work of literature but certainly well written and well worth reading. One of her stories has been translated into English but, while this novel has been translated into other languages (including Chinese and Ukrainian), it has not been translated into English. Indeed it is hard to think of many Latvian novels that have been translated into English.
Juan Francisco Ferré: Karnaval
I could fill this page with Spanish-language novels that have not been translated into English. This is one example, a wonderful pastiche on the Dominique Strauss-Kahn affair. As I said in my review, You cannot imagine such a book being written by an English speaker.
Marianne Fritz: Dessen Sprache du nicht verstehst [Whose Language You Do Not Understand]
I can see why this has not been translated. It is a massive (twelve-volume) Joycean masterpiece and just as difficult as Joyce, if not more so. But it is certainly a candidate for the Great Austrian novel.
Gilbert Gatore: Le passé devant soi [The Past In Front of You]
Another novel included, at least in part, because it is from c country whose novels are unknown in the English-speaking world. This one is an interesting novel in itself but also is about the Rwandan genocide which of course, is known in the English-speaking world.
Teolinda Gersão: O silêncio [Silence]
Portuguese novels rarely get translated into English, so it is no surprise this brilliant novel on male-female relationships has not. Whether you are male or female, you should read this but, unless you read German or Portuguese, you cannot.
Luis Goytisolo: Antagonía
Goytisolo’s tetralogy is long so is unlikely to appear in English (or French or German, which are both more likely) but the Spanish consider it one of the great Spanish twentieth century novels and it is certainly a very fine, though quite difficult work. Update This is now being published in English by Dalkey Archive Press.
Christoph Hein: Horns Ende [The End of Horn]
Some of his books have been translated into English but though you can read this in Bosnian, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, French, Hebrew, Polish, Russian and Spanish, you cannot read Hein’s tale of the death Museum Director Horn, as seen from the perspective of the town, in English.
Ismail Kadare: Dimri i madh (L’hiver de la grande solitude; Le Grand Hiver) [The Great Winter]
Many of Kadare’s works have been translated into English, albeit via French, but this has not. It is very long and tells of the break between Albania and the Soviet Union but very well worth reading if you can read French or German or Spanish or Swedish.
Elfriede Jelinek: Die Kinder der Toten [The Children of the Dead]
It is this that is Jelinek’s greatest work and yet it is not available in English. It is a vicious but brilliant attack on contemporary Austria, using zombies as the key leitmotif. Update: Yale University Press will be publishing this in English in 2019.
J. M. G. Le Clézio: La quarantaine [The Quarantine]
He may have won the Nobel Prize but there are still key books of his not translated into English (though this book is available in German, Korean and Spanish). The story is of a group of immigrants to Mauritius, quarantined on an island off Mauritius and essentially left to their fate.
Jorge Marchant Lazcano: La joven de blanco [The Girl in White]
This is here as all too many contemporary Latin American novels do not get translated into English. It is a very fine novel set in 19th century Chile, involving a great Chilean tragedy, the painter Whistler and, of course, love.
Ana María Matute: Paraíso inhabitado [Uninhabited Paradise]
As this is one of her later novels, it may well be translated into English in the future (as it has already been translated into French, German and Serbian), but I would not count on it. It is a superb evocation of childhood and a childhood world, not fantastical à la Peter Pan but very much in the real world.
Henrique Teixeira de Sousa: Ilhéu de Contenda [Squabbling Islander]
Cape Verde may not be a literary hotspot but this novel is an excellent story about a way of life that is changing – a common theme in twentieth century novels – and should be better known.
Gonzalo Torrente Ballester: La saga/fuga de J.B [The Saga/Flight of J. B.]
Sadly, as far as I can determine, only one of Torrente Ballester’s works has been translated into English which, considering his reputation in Spain, is a very poor showing. I could have nominated other works of his work but this one, considered one of the best twentieth century Spanish novels, a Joycean conspiracy theory novel, which also recalls Eco and García Márquez, is my favourite of his.
Other links – neglected books
The Neglected Books page (links to other articles on neglected books)
Ecco Neglected Classics
A Reader’s Delight
Lee Sandlin on”Ten Novels That Not Enough People Have Read”
Underappreciated Books (recommended by contributors to the Moorish Girl blog)
Lost in translation (10 overseas writers we should be reading)
Favorite Reissues of Neglected Books
The 10 best Neglected literary classics – in pictures
Overlooked Works of Fiction (scroll down)
Out-of-Print Works That Should Be Reprinted (scroll down)
Neglected Books: the list
Forgotten Authors (from the Independent – a Google search for all of them)
Forgotten Classics blog
Underrated Books: The Big List
How did we miss these?
How did we miss these? Part 2
The Underrated Writers
Most Neglected Book of the Year (2004)
Overlooked Fiction (2004)
Neglected Books Revisited, Part 1)
10 Unfairly Neglected or Forgotten Books
“Forgotten” writers to be retrieved in lecture series (Catholic writers)
Smugging up on forgotten authors
Five direly underappreciated U.S. novels >1960 by David Foster Wallace – I don’t think any of these are underappreciated but the late DFW does
15 Women Writers Discuss Their Favorite Overlooked Books
Unjustly Neglected Works of Science Fiction
Forgotten Classics (science fiction)
Forgotten British authors (science fiction/fantasy)
Second Readings (Jonathan Yardley’s re-reviews of old and/or forgotten classics n the Washington Post)
The Best Novels You’ve Never Read (Sixty-one critics reveal their favorite underrated book of the past ten years)
Why Do Some Writers Disappear?
100 Great American Novels You’ve (Probably) Never Read
Overlooked classics of American literature
Authors and celebrities recommend the books that they love but that have failed to gain the public attention they deserve
Spread the word: the Waterstone’s list of 30 books that deserve to be rediscovered
The Best Books You Haven’t Read
Ten Great Writers Nobody Reads
Consumed and Judged (This site is devoted to archiving brief accounts of odd and obscure books. My vow to you is to consume and pronounce judgment on a range of titles that in many cases have not been seen by human eyes for years, decades, perhaps even since the moment of their initial publication)
Writers No One Reads
Our Favorite Writers Pick Their Favorite Obscure Books
Susan Orlean, David Remnick, Ethan Hawke, and Others Pick Their Favorite Obscure Books
Vergessene Bücher [Forgotten Books]
Verzonken Boeken [Sunk Books]
Los escritores misteriosos
Other links – books that should be translated into English
The Untranslated Blog
Lost in Un-Translation
not yet translated (Scandinavian crime fiction)
Recommended Untranslated Books (Chinese)
Five Books Desperately in Need of Re-Translation (Chinese)
30 Great Authors from Argentina yet to be translated out of Spanish
Finnegan’s List 2012 (a selection of under-translated works, chosen and recommended by ten polyglot authors from ten different countries)
Finnegan’s List 2013 (a selection of under-translated works, chosen and recommended by ten polyglot authors from ten different countries)
Finnegan’s List 2014 (a selection of under-translated works, chosen and recommended by ten polyglot authors from ten different countries)
Finnegan’s List 2015 (a selection of under-translated works, chosen and recommended by ten polyglot authors from ten different countries)
The 20 Best Books in Translation You’ve Never Read
Japanese Fiction Series: Great Untranslated Books
A few more works/authors I’d to see published or re-published in English translation (scroll down)
#TranslateThis: 10 Arab Authors Recommend Books by Women Writers