The world of literature is booming with countless treasures waiting to be discovered; texts created to suspend our imaginations, play with our emotions and make us see the world in a different way. We all know about the books we should read. The Lord of the Flies. Animal Farm. Of Mice and Men. Jane Eyre. To Kill a Mockingbird. These are the texts that our school teachers told us to study – with good reason, of course. Although I agree that everybody should read these at some stage, there’s a fundamental issue with selecting such classic pieces early on. It puts restrictions on your reading material.
It encourages you to seek out the best of the best, most of which you could likely find on lists posted by sites like goodreads  and The Telegraph.  But the truth is that the best of the best won’t necessarily be on these lists. In fact, if you weren’t aware that these backstage authors existed, you might never come across their work. You would have to go out of your way to find them.
So, while I could go on about the obvious texts, I would instead like to draw attention to the novels that I feel don’t get the credit they deserve. You may vaguely recognise a couple of these novels or their writers. Others are likely to be completely unknown to you. Regardless, if you’re on the lookout for an exciting new read, you should definitely consider these following options.
The Death of Grass (1956) by John Christopher
Image by uk – charlie
In this post-apocalyptic novel, author John Christopher imagines a world gripped by widespread famine. When a new virus sweeps across East Asia, in turn infecting the region’s rice crops, the people of the UK fear that a deadly mutation could spread throughout Europe and threaten its essential agriculture. Protagonist John Custance remains hopeful that a cure promised by their government will soon arrive. But once it’s revealed that the cure has been a lie all along, the eradication of all types of grass (including wheat and barley) becomes imminent. With the aid of his friend, Roger, John leaves his London home behind and attempts to navigate his family through the English countryside to the safety of his brother’s potato farm. To reach this hidden valley, however, they need to journey through a land which is rapidly descending into chaos. Exploring the subjects of humanity and desperation, The Death Of Grass is a gripping read from start to finish.
Kindred (1979) by Octavia E. Butler
Image by Runes And Letters
Historical pieces that focus on the horrors of pre-twentieth century slavery seem to be all the rage right now. But this wonderful work of science-fiction by Octavia E. Butler gives readers a new spin on this dark subject matter. Kindred tells the story of Dana Franklin, an African-American who is unwillingly transported back in time to antebellum Maryland during the height of the slave trade. There, she is forced to save the life of her white, slave owner ancestor on numerous occasions just so she can continue to exist in the present. Continually jumping back and forth between these two heavily contrasting eras, Dana comes face to face with life as a slave – and must often make horrific, questionable decisions just to survive. Bursting with unsettling imagery and a captivating plot, Kindred succeeds with intriguing audiences while effectively portraying a deplorable part of our history.
Enduring Love (1997) by Ian McEwan
Image by Boy de Haas
Ian McEwan has written his fair share of great stories over the years. This one, however – despite being one of my favourites by the author – hasn’t received the positive reception it should have warranted. Enduring Love opens with a romantic picnic between Joe Rose and his girlfriend Clarissa, whom has recently returned from the states. Everything seems as it should be, until disaster comes crashing into their lives. Upon witnessing and attempting to aid in a hot-air balloon accident, Joe believes he’s part to blame for the deathly tragedy that resulted. But soon enough, this turns out to be the least of his worries. After the accident, fellow survivor Jed Parry seems to develop an unsettling obsession with Joe; an obsession that proceeds to spiral out of control and threaten not only Joe and Clarissa’s long-term relationship, but also their lives. A drama that reads like a thriller, McEwan’s powerful work delivers a vivid and thought-provoking narrative that’s never short of suspense.
I Am Legend (1954) by Richard Matheson
Image by Gerry Morris
You may well have seen the big-screen version of I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Although, what you may not be aware of is that it was originally a novel written by Richard Matheson. The two, however, are radically different. This has prompted an ongoing polarisation of viewers/readers as to which is better; but in my opinion, the novel is by far the best. Like the film version, the story is centred on Robert Neville, who believes himself to be the last man on Earth. Following a pandemic that has left the remaining human race in a vampirical state, Robert battles nightly terrors, loneliness and depression in the hopes of one day understanding and discovering a cure for the disease. While the movie version explores the famous horror trope on a basic level, Matheson’s novel is much more than a mere vampire tale. It’s an attempt to ground the myth of vampires with scientific reason, while tackling difficult topics and ideas that you’d never find in Will Smith’s Hollywood flick. Whatever your preference, this book is a triumphant sci-fi classic.
Sheepshagger (2001) by Niall Griffiths
Image by AbeBooks
If you’re a fan of Irvine Welsh’s ground breaking text Trainspotting, my guess is that you’ll come to love Niall Griffiths’ Sheepshagger. Set in the moorland mountains of west Wales, the story follows Ianto – an estranged, uneducated teen who gets his late grandmother’s home unrightfully taken from him by English holidaymakers. Throughout the grim narrative, Ianto’s friendship group attempt to fathom the mind of their companion and determine both the causes and motives that ultimately lead him to commit a series of savage crimes. Griffiths handles the mystery of Ianto with masterful storytelling that will leave you itching to read on. While it’s far from an easy read, Sheepshagger is a profound and lucid experience that tackles themes of colonialism, tragedy, friendship and morality. Yet be warned; it features plenty of swearing.
The Children of Men (1992) by P. D. James
Image by Mat Hampson
My final overlooked novel – another brilliant post-apocalyptic creation – is The Children of Men. Much like the 2006 film adaptation of the same name, P.D. James introduces us to a dystopian world that’s ripping itself apart thanks to universal infertility. The crying of a new-born child has not been heard for the last eighteen years, meaning science has failed, arts and democracy have been abandoned, and the future seems bleak at best. Apathetic historian Theo Faron spends his days reminiscing alone and showing little concern for the fate of mankind; that is at least until Julian, a young freedom fighter, comes seeking his help. Suddenly, Theo – a man whom has often neglected responsibility – is given a task that could not only change his own life, but the lives of everyone on Earth. While the book’s pace starts off slow, I assure you it’s well worth sticking until the end. This is a thrilling read which raises philosophical questions about our society and what it means to live and to love.