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Minor Novels

Prufrock readers recommend their favorite minor novels

Last week, I asked for recommendations of favorite minor novels. Of course, the question came—and rightly so—as to what I meant by “minor.” It’s a nebulous word, but in this case, I had in mind any lesser-known work by a “major” writer or a novel one was unlikely to have read in school. Thanks to all for the many recommendations. I’ve created an Amazon list with all the novels here. And here they are, too, in no particular order:

Hillel Halkin, Melisande! What Are Dreams? J. L. Carr, A Month in the Country

J. F. Powers, Morte D’Urban

Barbara Pym, A Few Green Leaves

Charles Portis, The Dog of the South

Charles Portis, Masters of Atlantis

Richard Hughes, A High Wind in Jamaica

Christopher Beha, What Happened to Sophie Wilder

John Williams, Stoner

Robert Drewe, The Drowner

Willa Cather, The Professor’s House

Willa Cather, A Lost Lady

Wilkie Collins, A Rogue’s Life

J. D. Sallinger, Franny and Zooey

C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet

Adalbert Stifter, Rock Crystal

Antonia White, Frost in May

Don DeLillo, Point Omega

Enrique Vila-Matas, Dublinesque

Rebecca Harding Davis, Life in the Iron Mills

James Gould Cozzens, The Just and the Unjust

Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men

Cormac McCarthy, Suttree

Mikhail Bulgakov, Heart of a Dog

Leo Tolstoy, Hadji Murat

Penelope Lively, How It All Began

Penelope Lively, The Photograph

Alfred H. Bill, The Wolf in the Garden

Michael Ende, Momo

Gavin Lyall’s four-volume Harry Maxim series

Frank D. Gilroy, From Noon till Three

Brian Moore, The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne

Stanley Elkin, The Rabbi of Lud 

Cameron Hawley, Executive Suite

Booth Tarkington, The Magnificent Ambersons

Antanas Sileika, Underground

Russell Hoban, Linger Awhile

David Brin, The Postman

Fanny Fern, Ruth Hall: A Domestic Tale of the Present Time

Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Minister’s Wooing

William Dean Howells, Indian Summer

Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

Kurt Vonnegut, Bluebeard

John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley in Search of America

George Eliot, Silas Marmer

Edwin A. Abbott, Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions

Saul Bellow, Seize the Day

Helen Dunmore, The Siege

Frederick Exley, A Fan’s Notes

Desmond Barry, The Chivalry of Crime

Anthony Trollope, The Eustace Diamonds

Herman Melville, The Confidence-Man

John Steinbeck, The Winter of our Discontent

John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

Anthony Powell, Venusberg

Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

Margaret Kennedy, The Feast

Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Joanna Russ, Picnic on Paradise

William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow

Thomas Hardy, Under the Greenwood Tree

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Lathe of Heaven

Robert A. Heinlein, Double Star

E. Phillips Oppenheim, The Great Impersonation

Robert Smith Surtees, Mr. Sponge’s Sporting Tour

Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz

John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces

In other news: Tom Shippey reviews Tom Licence’s Edward the Confessor: Last of the Royal Blood: “Licence writes that his new biography of Edward was prompted by the sense that both the man and his reign had become ‘entangled with an emotive national story’. This is putting it mildly. Nationalist English historians and novelists alike have treated defeat at Hastings as an emotional trauma. Tolkien notoriously took the Norman Conquest so hard that he avoided every connection with French: ‘Bag End’ is a defiant response to the imported phrase ‘cul-de-sac’, which angered Tolkien every time he saw it on a street sign. His view was shared by Victorians including Kingsley, Edward Freeman and even Dickens in his Child’s History of England(1851-53). The thoroughly unwelcome historical fact was that England had not only been invaded and occupied, but it had been conquered by people who spoke French. Still worse, there was little sign of later national resistance. Northern rebellion was crushed too quickly to provide a hero. Hereward no doubt did his best in East Anglia, and Eadric the Wild more obscurely on the Welsh marches, but there wasn’t much there for a proud Englishman to be proud of. Something of an industry grew up to massage the bruised national ego – see for instance Kipling’s Sir Richard Dalyngridge stories in Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906) and Rewards and Fairies (1910). The Normans weren’t really French, after all, the argument went, just transplanted Vikings, which on the Victorian ethnic map made them almost relatives. But there was no getting away from it: 1066 had been a disgrace. Someone had to take the blame. The ‘dreary old Confessor’, to use Dickens’s phrase, was and remains the leading candidate.”

Peter Parker takes stock of Shirley Hazzard’s stories: “Shirley Hazzard was in her late twenties when, in 1959, somewhat diffidently, she submitted her first short story to the New Yorker. It was, William Maxwell remembered, ‘an astonishment to the editors, because it was the work of a finished literary artist about whom they knew nothing whatever’, and he immediately accepted it for publication. Hazzard’s arrival as a fully formed and refreshingly cosmopolitan writer was a result of her peripatetic and often unhappy early life. ‘By the time I was 25, I had emerged from a lot of trouble,’ she recalled. ‘I had also, more interestingly, lived for appreciable periods in six countries and diverse languages.’”

Rachel Cooke reviews Ann Pasternak Slater’s new biography of Vivien Eliot: “There are two schools of thought about poor Viv, who died in 1947 in the institution where she had been incarcerated for almost a decade, and to which her husband never came. The first, and hoariest, is that she was a madwoman whose principle contribution to the life and work of TS Eliot was the immense distress she caused him, pain that helped him to write The Waste Land . . . The second approach posits her as a victim both of Eliot’s coldness and cruelty, and of the assorted quacks who did so little to help her following her breakdowns (the crudely feminist stance taken by her somewhat unreliable 2001 biographer, Carole Seymour-Jones) . . . Her latest biographer, Ann Pasternak Slater, is in one sense, at least, determined to see her as a person in her own right. Published in cooperation with the TS Eliot estate, The Fall of a Sparrow comprises two sections, the second of which is a complete annotated edition of Vivien’s stories and poems (Eliot rather proudly published his wife in the Criterion, which he edited in the 20s; the two of them also wrote together). But, alas, it’s here that the problems begin.”

Gerald Russello writes about the Catholic sensibility of Ron Hansen: “Because he is not from the gothic, Christ-haunted South or the ethnic-Catholic Northeast, Hansen brings new elements of the American Catholic story into fiction. In Mariette, for example, the nuns are French rather than, say, Italian or Irish, and the convent interacts with small-town America rather than urban areas. In this respect, Hansen can perhaps be grouped with J. F. Powers as a chronicler of the Catholic experience between the coasts.”

A. E. Stallings revisits 55 years of Modern Poetry in Translation: “Each issue, though pleasantly portable and pocket-sized, is an anthology in itself, containing over a hundred pages of translation, translator notes, interviews, roundtable discussions and book reviews with a focus on a particular language, country, region or theme. A handsome and easy-to-navigate website supplements the print journal with online-only features and events. Clare Pollard, the journal’s editor since 2017, points out in her editorial for the Czech- focused lockdown issue that ‘digital poetry events … make readings far more accessible’ and ‘solve … the problem of wanting to share global poets with audiences, but being concerned about the carbon footprint’. The Japanese poet Sayaka Osaki read at the digital launch of the May ‘Focus on Japan’ issue.”

Christopher Sandford writes about the hedonistic side of Friedrich Engels: “The coauthor of The Communist Manifesto was at all times driven by something more than mere personal distaste for the prevailing order. Behind the rhetoric lay a belief in the equal validity of every human and a detestation of a system that confined individuals to a predetermined, indefeasible track in life. Yet he reveled in the opulence afforded by his own station in life, high above the masses. Few public figures have been as adept as Engels at reconciling seeming opposites—or at treating high-minded politics and personal sensualism as inseparable rather than antithetical.”

Photos: Hockey at 6,000 feet