Bard and Muse are on a mission to uncover the scarcely-known masterpieces of literature. Each week we will add five books which are not as famous as they should be. Please let us know what you think should be on the list by using the contact form.
Not everything gets its just rewards. If history is written by the victors then literary history is surely written by the commemorated whilst the swathes of the forgotten lurk in the great sea of lost erudition; unseen, unsung, scarcely read.
Literature’s lost heroes, characters, twists and turns number no less than the real-life nearly-men of science, adventure, expedition and war. There are, quite simply, boundless great books which remain practically disclosed to the public forever, barred from ever seeing the light of day, eternally tortured through the punishment of not being read. Nor is this tragedy the work of some unscrupulous publisher keeping such works buried in the vaults of time. Mostly, these lost works appear lost through sheer, nonsensical, unpredictable bad luck- or at least due to a range of reasons nobody really understands. So, are there countless other Macbeth’s and Don Quixote’s surrendered to the cemetary of time, or to coin a phrase from Carlos Ruiz Zafon, the Cemetary of Lost Books? Well, I don’t know, but there are certainly some greats that have been long forgotten.
Ship of Fools by Katherine Ann-Porter may be just one such forlorn castaway. It’s a story of a cruise ship and its eclectic cast of passengers; the voyage becomes a crucible of tension, irrevocably changing each passenger singularly and collectively. Perhaps a director in the future may stumble upon it and turn it into a new Titanic with a mystery twist? And why not, it would surely surpass the countless Agatha Christie mysteries which appear on the box but then again, it not by Agatha Christie. It most ceetainly is however, two things; brilliant and scarcely known. Those same directors might be advised to excavate further, slip upon a stool and crash into another shelf in the Cemetary of Lost Books and topple over Samurai Shortstop by Alan Gratz, a charming tale of an emigrant Japanese boy who uses his samurai training to extraordinary effect, taking the baseball league by storm.
If they searched even further their lamplight might carry them too an even more lamentable woe. The House of the Spirits by Anabel Allende, should be as famous as A Hundred Years of Solitude, but obviously it isn’t. It is a stunning novel full of the magic realism which brought ….Solitude such acclaim. The tragic tale spans four generations of an aristocratic Chilean family. It is an analogy of Chilean history in the twentieth century- Allende’s own father had
If not in the Cemetery could Waterstone’s be a protectorate of these forgotten books? Well, maybe, but you would have to special order them and to do that you would have to have heard of them in the first place. No mean feat when the title and author has been forgotten. If you are searching though Wittgenstein’s Mistress by David Markson is an essential novel which blurs reality and fiction into a truly stark conclusion- it relates, via strangely scribbled memoirs, the story of a woman battling madness, convinced she is the last creature on earth- the reader never discovers whether this is due to her madness or not.
There are of course many, many, more forgotten and hardly-known books which makes the compiling of a ‘Top Ten Forgotten Books’ list a rather fruitless endeavour. Still, what strikes most personally is that we all surely have a few precious books which we realize we have read and that not many other people have. This, in a strange way, makes us champion these precious books in the same way a small cult film can be championed in the heated conversations of late party’s- ‘you’ve gotta see this film…… well you’ve gotta read this book too..’ perhaps should be our riposte. So, if you have read an obscure, forgotten book you should champion it; resurrect it from its nameless grave.