The assumption that a book will always find its audience can be an easy one to make, but for a number of reasons this doesn’t always happen. Events can conspire against even the most bestselling of authors, and the following are just ten examples of books you may not have noticed as they slipped through the net.

Roald Dahl – Someone Like You

Roald Dahl - Someone Like You

Roald Dahl is so deeply associated with his books for children that people are often surprised to discover he was also a prodigious writer of short stories for adults. This is fully understandable, as it’s hard to imagine him writing anything much more mature than books like Matilda, The Witches, and George’s Marvellous Medicine, laced as they are with love, loss, loneliness, murder plots, and revenge.

While it’s fair to say a handful of them haven’t aged particularly well, Dahl’s short stories are all deliciously poisonous tales, neat little clockwork puzzles each with a satisfying resolution. The Great Automatic Grammatizer, collected in Someone Like You, might just be the best thing Dahl ever wrote.

 

 

Hilary Mantel – A Place of Greater Safety

Hilary Mantel - A Place of Greater Safety

The New York Times weren’t especially fond of A Place of Greater Safety, suggesting that Hilary Mantel might be best focusing her writing on "more novel and less history.” Twenty years later, with successive Booker prizes for her historical fiction Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies under her belt, you’d have to assume Mantel is glad she didn’t take that advice on board. Other critics were kinder about A Place of Greater Safety, a pacey, blood-drenched doorstop of a book about the French Revolution, but it didn’t set the charts alight. Mantel’s recent ascendance into the literary stratosphere means this looks set to change.

 

 

Charles Dickens – Barnaby Rudge

Charles Dickens - Barnaby Rudge

Admittedly, it does seem a little absurd to associate any Dickens book with the words ‘little known', but if I’m to use an analogy that bears little to no scrutiny, if Barnaby Rudge were a member of Manchester United’s treble-winning 1998-99 squad, it would be Nicky Butt. A solid member of the group that doesn’t receive the plaudits it deserves compared to its more camera friendly associates. The book's lack of prominence might also be explained by its low score on the highly scientific Dickens Adaptation Frequency Ratio (which I have just invented): unlike Dickens’s other books, it hasn’t been adapted for film or television in over five decades.

 

 

Anthony Burgess – A Dead Man in Deptford

Anthony Burgess - A Dead Man in Deptford

Both book and film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange caused almighty kerfuffles, so there was always the danger of Anthony Burgess’s other books getting lost in the noise. This certainly appears to have been the case with A Dead Man In Deptford, Burgess’ retelling of the life of Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe. What little impression Marlowe left on the historical record hints at a ridiculously interesting and mysterious figure, and it’s clear that Burgess had immense fun stuffing the gaps full of espionage and romance. Neatly enough, fellow list member Hilary Mantel can be numbered among the book’s small fan club, describing the novel as ‘A fast, funny, flawless recreation.’

 

 

Fyodor Dostoevsky – The Adolescent

Fyodor Dostoevsky - The Adolescent

Dostoevsky wrote The Adolescent (or A Raw Youth, depending on the translation) on the back of a decade-long hot streak in which he’d produced Crime and Punishment, The Idiot, and Demons. When you’ve just penned a handful of the greatest novels of all time it’s fair to say the pressure is on, and a drop in quality is likely to be starkly noticeable. Perhaps herein lies the problem: on The Adolescent’s first day at school all the teachers were raving about its older siblings, who’d all just left with straight A’s. It’s an admittedly uneven book, but all of Dostoevsky’s classic themes are here, and even writing at 65% of his powers he’s better than most.

 

 

Richard Dawkins – Unweaving the Rainbow

Richard Dawkins - Unweaving the Rainbow

The great tragedy of Richard Dawkins’s frothy-mouthed descent into pantomime atheist and retweeter of praise, is that he writes about science really beautifully. The irony is that while Dawkins will always be associated with the belligerent polemicizing of The God Delusion, books such as Unweaving the Rainbow, with all their wonderful clarity, are much more likely to convert people to his way of thinking.

By way of a bonus fact, The God Delusion was dedicated to the author of the next entry on this list, Dawkins’ favourite book.

 

 

Douglas Adams – Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Douglas Adams - Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

Douglas Adams described Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency as a "thumping good detective-ghost-horror-whodunnit-time travel-romantic-musical-comedy-epic," a mess of Venn diagrams many readers shied away from simply because it wasn’t another novel in the Hitchhikers Guide ‘Trilogy’ (there are 5 books in the trilogy, so their expectations weren’t too unreasonable). The Hitchhikers series sold 15 million copies in Adams’ lifetime, and while this still sold rather nicely indeed, it never enjoyed quite the same success. And, as I’m sure a science lover like Adams would be the first to tell you, everything’s relative.

 

 

Gabriel Garcia Marquez – The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

Gabriel Garcia Marquez - The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor

Marquez is a writer renowned for impregnating the every day with magic and beauty, but one of his most fascinating and tragically overlooked works is actually a case of real world reportage. The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor is the true account of Velasco, a man swept overboard a Colombian destroyer in 1955 and forced to fend for himself for ten days at sea without food and water. This short book is packed with human spirit, hallucinations, and a totally disgusting account of a man eating a seagull. Come to think of it, maybe the seagull thing put people off. Perhaps not one for the Richard and Judy Book-Club.

 

 

Charlotte Brontë – The Professor

Charlotte Bronte - The Professor

The Professor was the first novel Charlotte Brontë wrote, and it would never see the light of day in her lifetime, suffering rejection by numerous publishers. Brontë abandoned the novel, a loose account of the time she and her sister Emily spent in training as governesses-to-be, reworking much of its content into the far more successful Villette. The Professor, which was published posthumously following a heavy editing job, is worth a read for admirers of the Brontës, packed as it is with autobiographical detail, as well as offering a different perspective to the events of Villette.

 

 

Mary Shelley – The Last Man

MAryShelley - The Last Man

Mary Shelley considered The Last Man to be among her best work, but it met with critical derision upon its publication in 1826, and sank without leaving any real trace. It was resuscitated in the 1960s, but by an academic audience who were mainly interested in the thinly veiled portraits of Lord Byron and Percy Shelley within the book.

A gothic tale of the apocalypse set in a plague ridden future, it’s fair to say that The Last Man was ahead of its time. Apocalyptic tales are ten a penny nowadays, but readers in Shelley’s era, prior to the fin de siècle, two world wars, and the threat of nuclear disaster, would have less of a grounding in such cultural pessimism. It’s tempting to argue the world just wasn’t ready, and perhaps in the twenty first century (coincidentally where the story happens to be set) the book will find a readership.

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