I love reading more obscure books which have sometimes faded unfairly into the annals of time. Whilst the books mentioned below are still available, and not ‘obscure’, as such, I thought it was still worth typing up a post to recommend them. Some of the authors which I have selected below are not unheard of by any means, but I have found the books which I have suggested to be little spoken about, or even read.
NB. The following are all relatively readily available on secondhand websites, and some are currently in print by smaller presses. The only one which I sourced in ebook format was the Holtby, which can be found on the Kindle store.
1. Pointed Roofs by Dorothy Richardson
‘The first of the Pilgrimage novels, Pointed Roofs (1915) was the first complete stream of consciousness novel in English, although Richardson herself disliked the term, preferring to call her way of writing interior monologues. The failure to recognise Richardson’s role is partly due to the critical neglect of Richardson’s writing during her lifetime. The fact that Pointed Roofs displayed the writer’s admiration for German culture at a time when Britain and Germany were at war may also have contributed to the general lack of recognition of the book’s radical importance.’
2. The Love Child by Edith Olivier
‘What was she? Not a child, for she was seventeen, and taller than Kitty: not a girl, for she floated like a feather, and flew into trees like a bird; not a spirit – she was human to touch. But to-night she was all made of mischief and magic, remote form him, and yet calling him to here . . .’ At thirty-two, her mother dead, Agatha Bodenham finds herself quite alone. She summons back to life the only friend she ever knew, Clarissa, the dream companion of her childhood. At first Clarissa comes by night, and then by day, gathering substance in the warmth of Agatha’s obsessive love until it seems that others too can see her. See, but not touch, for Agatha has made her love child for herself alone. No man may approach her elfin creation of perfect beauty. If he does, the love which summoned her can spirit her away . . . The Love Child (1927) was Edith Olivier’s first novel, acknowledged as a minor masterpiece: a perfectly imagined fable and a moving and perceptive portrayal of unfulfilled maternal love.’
3. When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen
‘Anna is on her way to the hospital where her brother has been sectioned. But – on route – she falters, and her world splinters into a blazing display of memory and madness fueled by her family’s psychological disintegration.’
4. The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti A. Skomsvold
‘Mathea Martinsen has never been good at dealing with other people. After a lifetime, her only real accomplishment is her longevity: everyone she reads about in the obituaries has died younger than she is now. Afraid that her life will be over before anyone knows that she lived, Mathea digs out her old wedding dress, bakes some sweet cakes, and heads out into the world—to make her mark. She buries a time capsule out in the yard. (It gets dug up to make room for a flagpole.) She wears her late husband’s watch and hopes people will ask her for the time. (They never do.) Is it really possible for a woman to disappear so completely that the world won’t notice her passing? The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am is a macabre twist on the notion that life “must be lived to the fullest.’
5. Truth is Not Sober and Other Stories by Winifred Holtby
‘This collection of her short stories were written between 1923 and 1933 and range over all her interests and from her native Yorkshire to the wider world.’
6. The Death of the Moth and Other Essays by Virginia Woolf
Woolf’s essay writing at its best.
7. Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
‘By the author of the William books, 1948 family saga contrasting two matriarchs and their very different children.’
8. Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay
‘For Miss Cordell, principal of Persephone College, there are two great evils in the world: unladylike behavior among her students and bad publicity for the college. This means it’s a very, very bad day when a secret society of her students meets by the river on a gloomy January afternoon—and finds the drowned body of the college bursar. Death on the Cherwell follows the investigation, which initially focuses on the girls themselves and ultimately leads them to do some detecting of their own. Soon they uncover a tangle of secrets—and clues that point to a fellow student. This novel from the golden age of British crime fiction is sure to puzzle and charm fans of Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie, and Josephine Tey.’
9. Dance with a Shadow by Irina Ratushinskaya
‘Ratushinskaya, one of the most important poetic voices to emerge from the last years of the USSR, was only twenty-eight when she was sentenced to seven years of hard labor and five of internal exile, accused of anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda. Her crime: writing poetry. She was detained for three years in a “strict regime” labor camp, where she suffered horrendous conditions. But her poems were smuggled out of the camp and published in 1986 in No, I’m Not Afraid, the book that instigated the successful international campaign for her release. This presents fifty-one previously untranslated poems written over the past twenty years. More than twenty of the poems are previously unpublished works written in the labor camp. Despite her ordeal, her poetry remains consistent in its concerns and subject matter: personal faith and the courageous assertion of the human spirit.’
10. Dimanche and Other Stories by Irene Nemirovsky
‘Written between 1934 and 1942, these ten gem-like stories mine the same terrain of Némirovsky’s bestselling novel Suite Française: a keen eye for the details of social class; the tensions between mothers and daughters, husbands and wives; the manners and mannerisms of the French bourgeoisie; questions of religion and personal identity. Moving from the drawing rooms of pre-war Paris to the lives of men and women in wartime France, here we find the beautiful work of a writer at the height of her tragically short career.’