5 Underrated or Overlooked Novels

When people talk about the “best” books, or their favourites, often they are guided by peer pressure or by what they think should be the best books. Or if an author is the topic of discussion, the same old books are trotted out as supreme examples.  This means that a lot of books are overlooked or forgotten about, and so here are 5 that I think should be tracked down and read because they are really good, despite being forgotten by nearly everyone.

Now, some ground rules. These are stand-alone novels. They are not anthologies or collections of stories in other forms. They are also books not written by friends of mine or people I have come to know through writing, as that would be biased of me. Stephen King, I decided, was off-limits here as well. And these are books that whenever I bring them up get me blank stares (or the online equivalent), so I am assuming my impression of them as underrated or overlooked is pretty accurate.

And with that…

The Gospel According To Judas by Benjamin Iscariot – Jeffrey Archer
Certainly never mentioned when people talk about Archer’s more well-known works – Kane And Abel, First Among Equals, etc – and often derided for its short length, Biblical passages and muddled religion (none of which I agree with), this is an interesting diversion for Archer and one that I found riveting. I read it over the course of a day and couldn’t put it down. Very interesting and plausible and a fine story to boot. And, no, not my normal genre.

Pig – Kenneth Cook
One of my favourite books, and one of my very favourite Australian books ever, Pig is a great horror yarn about a giant pig terrorising outback Australia. The countryside has never been described more menacingly. At about the same time the much better known (and inferior) Razorback came out as a book and film, and Pig was relegated to the background. But it shouldn’t be. It is a gripping, high adventure roller coaster ride and I love it.

West Of Eden – Harry Harrison
The science has been derided, and the whole concept has been poo-pooed, but there has not been a better dinosaurs and people living together book (Jurassic Park notwithstanding, as I fluctuate between which is the better dinosaur-human book), nor has there been a better dinosaurs evolving intelligence book. The whole language constructed for the Yilane and the interactions with the people is amazing. Sure, some of the biotech developed by the Yilane is a little bit over the top, but the story is still riveting and exciting, either as a stand-alone novel or as the opening book in a really strong trilogy. Often lost amongst his lighter work (the Stainless Steel Rat books, etc), this is some wonderful science-fiction/fantasy.

The Road To Mars – Eric Idle
Known for his work with Monty Python’s Flying Circus and, latterly, associated musical extravaganzas, like most members of the Python crew his written work has suffered by comparison. But that’s really unfair when it comes to this work, a great piece about a robot who wants to be a stand-up comic, and I found it a fun ride. Sure, the female characters are a little weak (a comment made about a lot of Python product), and the ending is a little twee, but the ride is the thing and I enjoyed it, even if many others apparently (judging by online comments) did not.

Uncle Gustav’s Ghosts – Colin Thiele
For people of a certain age in Australia, Colin Thiele was THE man. His books were funny and yet populated with realistic characters going through adventures and experiences that were wonderful and yet that we, as children and young adults, could relate to. Storm Boy and Sun On The Stubble were almost required reading. But this was the book of his I enjoyed more than any other. I have it in hardback and read it so often I wore the paper jacket into nothing. The ghosts (that may or may not have been real) mixed with the comedy and the coming of age tale is done superbly.

So give these a go – I promise you won’t be disappointed.

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