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The 10 best Neglected Literary Classics

February 27, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

South Riding is not the only lost novel worthy of a BBC1 slot


Rachel Cooke – The Observer, 27 February 2011

The Real Charlotte

Somerville and Ross (1894)

Somerville and Ross (the pen names of Edith Somerville and her second cousin, Violet Martin) are best known for their comic stories, Some Experiences of an Irish RM. But their masterpiece is the chilling The Real Charlotte, in which our antiheroine reveals her terrible nature when her marriage plans for her orphaned and beautiful cousin, Francie, go badly wrong. Insanity, sexual jealousy and a decaying Anglo-Irish country estate: the novel has them all. Truly creepy, it will be republished by Capuchin Classics, with a new foreword by Colm Tóibín, next month



The Vet’s Daughter

Barbara Comyns (1959)

Everyone should read Barbara Comyns. Graham Greene was a fan and so is Alan Hollinghurst. Plus, there is no one to beat her when it comes to the uncanny. The Vet’s Daughter tells the story of 17-year-old Alice, who lives with her savage veterinary father (a “terrible genie” in a waxed moustache and yellow gloves) in a horrible south London suburb. When she escapes his tyranny – she moves to the country, where she discovers a peculiar talent – Alice’s life seems to be improving. But it can’t last. A return to Daddy and his new wife and things grow nastier than ever. Nightmarish

The Rector’s Daughter

FM Mayor (1924)

The Rector’s Daughter is heartbreaking – not a term I use lightly. Mary lives in a decaying village rectory with her father, Canon Jocelyn, a fussy and distant old man. Having nursed her invalid sister until her recent death, Mary has given up on the things other women might take for granted – love, marriage, a happier home elsewhere. Until, that is, the arrival of Mr Herbert, for whom Mary conceives a passion. The Rector’s Daughter is the story of how she endures this ill-fated love, rescued by such unfashionable qualities as dignity, stoicism and duty

School for Love

Olivia Manning (1951)

In spite of the efforts of the BBC, which turned her Balkan and Levant trilogies into Fortunes of War, starring Kenneth Branagh and a cute pair of horn-rimmed spectacles, Olivia Manning remains one of the 20th-century’s most-neglected writers. But she is so good! School for Love tells the story of Felix Latimer, a young orphan who is marooned in wartime Jerusalem, alongside other flotsam and jetsam, in lodgings belonging to the repulsive Miss Bohun. A tremendous book about the way in which war makes adults of children – and avarice monsters of us all


The Wife

Meg Wolitzer (2003)

The Wife was published less than a decade ago, but I say it is already a classic – and I have no idea why its author remains so less well known than her US compatriots, Alison Lurie and Lorrie Moore. A postmortem of an ossified marriage, the novel is narrated by Joan Castleman, who has been married to Joe – a great American writer – for 45 years. Not for much longer, though; as soon as he receives his Helsinki prize (the Nobel by any other name), she’ll be off. A brilliantly funny novel about how women facilitate the lives of men, Wolitzer imbues Joan’s story with an invigorating seam of barely suppressed rage

A Way of Life, Like Any Other

Darcy O’Brien (1977)

The bastard child – if you can imagine it – of Slim Aarons and JD Salinger, A Way of Life, Like Any Other is a coming-of-age story like no other. Set in 50s Hollywood, the novel is narrated by a teenager called Salty, whose father once starred in westerns and whose mother was a goddess of the silver screen. In the old days, they enjoyed the high life, but now their careers have crashed, their marriage is broken, and the only way is down. Stylish, hilarious and touching, Salty is every bit as deadly (and as deadpan) a narrator as Holden Caulfield before him

The Odd Women

George Gissing (1893)

I love all these books, but The Odd Women is the one I wish everyone would read. Virginia and Alice Madden, impoverished by the death of their father, are growing old together in a genteel boarding house, a fate their younger sister, Monica, has been spared thanks to a loveless marriage. All are desperate. But then the Maddens meet daring feminist Rhoda Nunn. Will her example encourage the Maddens to escape their rhetorical and emotional prisons, or is Rhoda, having fallen suddenly in love, soon to bow out of the great struggle herself?

The Blank Wall

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1947)

The Blank Wall has been filmed twice – as The Reckless Moment in 1949, and as The Deep End in 2001 – and its author was admired by Raymond Chandler. But does it hold up today? Oh, yes. Lucia Holley is a suburban housewife coping alone while her husband serves in the Pacific. Then, one morning, she finds the body of her teenage daughter’s dubious lover and, desperate to protect her family, rapidly becomes implicated in his murder. Will she keep her cool? Atmospheric and difficult to put down, Sanxay Holding is as clinical and as clever as Patricia Highsmith

Ann Veronica

HG Wells (1909)

Ann Veronica – aka Vee – is 21 and lives in a dull commuter suburb of London with her father. Tired both of his inability to understand her, and the stream of dreary suitors he parades before her, she runs off to Bloomsbury where she meets bohemians, suffragettes and other dangerous modern types. But she also falls in love – with Capes, who has, alas, already been married. The adulterous Wells was rather a naughty man and Ann Veronica, with its advocacy of free love – not to mention a heroine who goes climbing in knickerbockers – caused outrage when it was first published

The Victorian Chaise-Longue

Marghanita Laski (1953)

Melanie Langdon, spoilt and sickly and recovering from TB, lies down on her antique chaise-longue one afternoon in 1953 and wakes up trapped inside the body of a young Victorian woman called Milly. Is she dreaming? No. Melanie really is marooned in a claustrophobic world that stinks of stale clothes, rancid butter and hypocrisy (judging by the whispers of the servants, Milly has been involved in some kind of scandal). More terrifyingly, the body Melanie inhabits is far frailer than her





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  1. March 13, 2011 at 1:17 am

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