Some of my Favorite Underrated Books

There are many mainstream novels I have enjoyed since becoming an avid reader. The Great Gatsby. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Fight Club. But there’s nothing quite as satisfying as picking up a book you know NOTHING about, usually by an author you’ve never heard of and adding it to your ‘favorites’ shelf. Here are some of mine:

The Frog King
The Frog King [2002], by Adam Davies
When I was perusing the stacks at my local Chapters and feeling like the perfect book for me would be just around the corner I came across The Frog King. It had a bright, cutesy frog on the cover but the part that caught my eye was its “A Love Story” sub-title. Aw, shucks. Plus, it was about a struggling writer living in New York, so it just felt right. And I was in love right away. I’ve probably read this book five times and although it may have lost a bit of its luster over time, it still sticks out as one of my favorites. The protagonist is far from perfect and some of the situations & characters seem a little forced, but the dialogue is witty and there are plenty of memorable scenes within.

My Russian Love
My Russian Love [1997], by Dan Franck
I found this book in a discount bin at a local independent bookstore. What a find! Not even 200-pages, My Russian Love manages to capture the blossoming relationship between Luca, a French film student, and a Russian girl. The novel weaves the story of the young lovers, from the beginning of their relationship to the end, with a present-day Luca recounting every detail. The ending is a little gimmicky, but you cannot discount the beauty with which Franck writes his characters and the innocence of first love.

The Hottest State
The Hottest State [1996], by Ethan Hawke
Ethan Hawke had always been one of my favorite actors (mostly due to his performances in Before Sunrise, Gattaca and Snow Falling on Cedars) so imagine my surprise when I discovered the novel Ash Wednesday by Ethan Hawke. It was actually his second novel, but after devouring it I had to find more works by the author. It was then that I found The Hottest State, his first novel. Though the dialogue in Ash Wednesday was superb, there really wasn’t much else holding it together. But The Hottest State was, quite literally, a different story. Much like in The Frog King (above), this was a tale of a selfish young man, trying to figure out what it means to truly love someone. The story is raw and much like real life, things do not always turn out to have a happy ending. But that’s part of its charm. Ethan Hawke really is a gifted writer and if you enjoy this novel I recommend watching the movie adaptation (also directed by Hawke). Both the book and the film are very underrated.

The Hollow House
The Hollow House [2001], by Carlo Dellonte
Another book that I discovered in the discount bin, this time in Australia. There was very little in the way of description, but for some reason the cover really captured me. I’m glad I did grab it though, as it is a very moody, very strange book. This gothic tale is about a man who stops for the night in a remote fishing village. He meets and grows quite fond of the girl running the desk at the bed and breakfast. But in the morning she’s gone, and this man decides that if he wants to see her again the best thing to do is stay in the house and pretend he’s the girl’s boyfriend (whom no one in the town has ever met before). All of the fishermen are extremely suspicious of the man and he never really gives them any reason not to be. The frustrating thing is that he just keeps burying himself deeper and deeper into his lies and fantasies, but you keep reading on to try and make sense of it all. It’s creepy in a sort of stalker-ish way, and there are many times where the reader should be yelling, “What are you doing, you idiot? Just leave that stupid village already!” As far as I know, this is Dellonte’s only work of fiction but I would love to find more writing by this virtually unknown author.

The Horned Man
The Horned Man [2003], by James Lasdun
Much like The Hollow House (above), this is a book that keeps its readers in the dark, carefully handing out only the oddest and vaguest of clues. Maybe I like books that confuse the hell out of me. Sure, this one has such severe literary moments that you might think you’re reading a tale of magical realism, but at its heart it is a psychological thriller. Readers are unsure whether to root for or despise the protagonist, which can certainly be a turn off for some. It’s another short novel (just over 200 pages) which makes it easy to keep pushing through hoping at least some of the answers will be on the next page. As a bonus, Lasdun’s writing is incredibly unnerving and beautiful at the same time.

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