Celestial Weasel (celestialweasel) wrote,
Celestial Weasel

The weasel list part 1

Would be list of 'great lost masterpieces' if (a) they were masterpieces (b) any book can really be described as lost these days and (c) some of them weren't fairly famous anyway.
So a list of books which I liked that could, on some level, be described as being undeservedly obscure. Perhaps.

List first, then the start of more details under a cut. Not ranked in order particularly.

1. The Alchemists, Margaret Doody
2. Alms For Oblivion, Simon Raven
3. The Road to Paradise, Keith Roberts
4. The Bug, Ellen Ullman
5. Who He? aka The Rat Race, Alfred Bester
6. The Exploits Of Engelbrech, Maurice Richardson
7. It's like that cat, Emily Cheney Neville
8. You’ll Never be Here Again, Mark Blackaby
9. Wizard Of the Pigeons, Megan Lindholm
10 Summer of Love, Lisa Mason

The Alchemists, Margaret Doody

This is perhaps closest to being the great lost masterpiece. I cannot understand why it is out of print, particularly as people like to buy books set in Oxford. Doody is now better known for historical detective novels with Aristotle as the detective, she is big in translation in Italy, and bizarrely a translation of The Alchemists was released in Italy in 2002 (though seems to be out of print now).
Although not her first published novel it has a definite 'first novel' feel about it.
Essentially, our protagonist Anne is an American student at Oxford in the early 60s. Due to a misunderstanding she is sucked into the orbit of a group of three of the jeunesse dorée, who have a number of scams going (selling essays, love potions, pimping out female students known to 'put out' [this is the early 60s, remember], betting on exam results, reselling wine from college cellars). The scams all unravel at the end, and Anne is rescued by a Canadian post-grad chemist.
There is at least one thing that doesn't make sense, it is not clear whether and/or why the love potion works. When I first read the book, I assumed that there was a real fantasy element (the female of the group of three is described as a 'witch'), so was slightly let down by the ending. I think you will enjoy if more if you know it isn't fantasy.
I read about it somewhere, then finally got it out of Banbury library when we, briefly, lived there.

Alms For Oblivion, Simon Raven

Not necessarily that obscure, and slightly defies description. A sequence of interlinked novels about the same group of characters of the British 'great and good' from the 2nd World War to the 80s (i.e. contemporary with when the last book was written). The obvious comparisons are Anthony Powell's 'A Dance To The Music of Badgers' and Evelyn Waugh, particularly the Sword of Honour trilogy, but to my mind much better than either (though I would be lying if I said I had read all of the Powell). Some, obviously, are better than others. The first I read was 'The Sabre Squadron', which I would describe as a black comedy thriller and is my favourite, possibly of course because his writing was new to me when I read it. 'Sound The Retreat', another favourite, set at the end of the British Empire in India is a more straight historical / political novel and also one of the best. 'Places Where They Sing', another one of the best ones, is set in Cambridge and concerns academic infighting over what should be done with a bequest and student radicalism in general. The satire is quite broad, almost Tom Sharpe-esque. It is saved by Raven being contemptuous of all his characters, even though his sympathies are more with the traditionalists.
They are now available in three (I think) omnibus editions, though back in the dream-time I hunted for them in charity shops (not sure why I didn't get them out of the library, maybe I didn't think of it).

The Road To Paradise, Keith Roberts
Maggie Blighe, an author of historical non-fiction and romance novels and keen amateur photographer, happens to see through her telephoto lens a tragedy at a civil war reenactment when a young man is killed when a live bullet it used. Feeling personally involved having seen this, and morally offended by his killing, she sets out to find out why. This draws her into the world of rival civil war reenactment societies and beyond this into private right-wing armies of the sort that existed or were believed to have existed in the 70s when this is set (see also Reggie Perrin's brother in law Jimmy). Her interest in his death comes to the attention of the authorities, who are not pleased, particularly as she trades on her previous job in the civil service.
There is certain degree of classic detective novel 'oh noes, teh backstory' but it falls within acceptable levels because it is not too laboured and fits in with the plot.
This was published in 1989 by Kerosina, the small press set up to make Roberts's work available, but to no great surprise one of the few web pages that mention this that have info beyond his obits and the stuff in Wikipedia says that it was written more or less contemporary with when it is set, and that Roberts planned a series of books featuring Maggie. But obviously this didn't sell at the time, possibly because of Roberts' notorious difficult nature.
I find this deeply sad as actually by the standards of crime novels (or whatever you want to call them) it is actually rather good, and to be honest I am a bit 'meh' about most of Roberts' work. There are a few incandescent stories, most of Pavane and a handful of others, but certainly for my money this is much better than any of the other stuff put out by Kerosina (though Kaeti and Company is not without a certain charm - though it doesn't really read like the work of an established professional writer).
In some parallel world Roberts sold the series and the Maggie Blighe mysteries are one of the staples of ITV Drama.

11 Coming From Behind, Howard Jacobson

A promising first comic campus novel set in what is clearly Wolverhampton Poly with the serial number filed off. The hero, an English lecturer is very misanthropic and thwarted at every turn by colleagues. If only this Howard Jacobson had written more work rather than the pompous, unfunny twerp with the same name, author of The Finkler Question etc. Almost as confusing as the two Jeremy Beadles.


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