Top Ten Older Books I Don’t Want to Be Forgotten

“Reason I know, is only a drug, and, as such, its effects are never permanent. But, like the juice of the poppy, it often gives a temporary relief.”

Hope Mirrlees

  1. Evelina – Fanny Burney. It would be a huge shame if this disappeared into history’s dusty bottom drawer: it’s a funny and engaging sub-Austen comedy of manners about a Regency girl (no prizes for guessing her name) visiting London for the first time. Too often we think of Austen as the only voice coming out of that time; it’s never good to read a historical era (or, indeed, anything) through the eyes of only one person.
  2. Sabriel – Garth Nix. Zooming swiftly up the timeline: Sabriel is one of those novels that seems perpetually on the edge of being forgotten, clinging on in the SFF undergrowth. But, truly, it’s streets ahead of so many of its YA SFF peers: detailed and satisfying world-building, plenty of action, and a relatable and believable female protagonist.
  3. Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake. I don’t honestly think Gormenghast is in too much danger of being “forgotten”; I do think, however, it might dwindle to an academic curio, something read only by Gothic aficionados (guilty) and real hard-nosed SFF geeks (less guilty than I would like to be). And that would be a shame; Gormenghast is a kind of fantasy at risk of being lost in the swamp of Tolkien-lite that floods the genre at the moment.
  4. God’s War – Kameron Hurley. I’ve blogged about this extensively recently, because it is (excuse my Klatchian) fucking awesome. A novel of women and race, violence and recrimination, it’s exactly the kind of thing that can get problematically erased from history.
  5. Fly By Night – Frances Hardinge. Hardinge is another author who is, frankly, criminally under-read. She writes dystopia tinged with hope; stories in which inequality can be exchanged only for uncertainty. They are aspirational narratives: perhaps they don’t end entirely happily, but they could. They could
  6. The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe. Haunting and haunted. Edging around the infinite gap at the centre of all experience. Overwritten and hypnotic. And, almost certainly, not what you think.
  7. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe – Charles Yu. This is a slight but incredibly clever novel, a meditation on the science-fictionality of life and time and memory.
  8. Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl. Another clever, twisty, Gothicky novel about the perils of reading and the subjectivity of experience.
  9. Lud-in-the-Mist – Hope Mirrlees. An exemplar of the kind of English fantasy that’s been erased by the aforesaid swamp of Tolkien-lite: superficially simple but full of hidden and unsettling depths.
  10. Tree and Leaf – J.R.R. Tolkien. OK, it’s not very likely that this will be utterly forgotten, given its authorship. But Tree and Leaf is the book that contains the incredibly creepy story “Leaf by Niggle”, which is one of the few of the Professor’s minor works I think is actually worth reading for a non-fan.

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