Rummaging through vintage books and the public domain, I feel a lot like the hoarder goblin from Labyrinth, wanting to just keep all of them and somehow read them all simultaneously. I mean, you’ve got the quintessentials – Poe, Austen, Tolstoy, etc. but I kind of favour the lesser-loved. They haven’t been talked about to the extent that you already know the spoilers long before you’ve read it. These are a few pretty solid, varying shades of obscure books that I’ve had the pleasure of reading recently. Maybe they’ll get a full review one day (if they’re lucky).
Darkness Visible by William Golding
Golding is one of my favourite authors, but the bane of high schoolers. I think why so many of his other novels get overlooked is because of people who hated reading Lord of the Flies while they were pretty much living it out in school. That’s fair, but I think in some aspects, his later novels are better. A little more polished, if also much darker. Darkness Visible is about a man who was severely burned as a child during the Blitz, and becomes this sort of bizarre messianic figure. It’s written as a dreamlike occurrence, and is overall a very difficult book to describe, but I would recommend it for those with the stomach.
Anthem by Ayn Rand
Maybe not super obscure, but so many people are traumatized by forcing themselves through Atlas Shrugged that they forget Anthem. I’m teasing, but I don’t know that I’d ever be brave enough to attempt Atlas. I really did enjoy Anthem, as a dystopian work. It’s a strange story about thought police defeating the individual personality – a world where everyone is a hive mind who have never seen their own faces. An interesting fact about why it’s now in the public domain is that whoever owned the copyright kind of… forgot about it, apparently, and it never got renewed.
The Coral Island by R.M. Ballantyne
I’ve mentioned this novel a few times on this blog. It’s sadly been buried by the books that have taken inspiration from it. The Coral Island is the spiritual granddaddy of three famous classics – Peter Pan, Treasure Island, and the aforementioned Lord of the Flies.
Much in the way that those books don’t, this novel has some pretty frank and violent depictions of cannibalism and murder for something aimed at children. That’s pretty badass, considering how old it is. A lot of the book however, is meant to be educational and adventurous, and is entertaining. You can see some of the parallels with its successors throughout, and it surprises me that this novel didn’t catch on in later years like they did when it’s so similar.
The Loom of Youth by Alex Waugh
I am reading this right now and at this point, there is no plot. Just the daily horrors of a boys’ school in the early 1900s. This is an increasingly bitter novel, scandalous for… being honest about the awfulness of the Edwardian school system? I must find some pearls to clutch!
The most distressing thing about The Loom of Youth is that despite being published over a century ago, the English and American school systems still suffer from the same problems. There is not enough difference between the school depicted in the book and any random modern school you could walk into. Actually, the modern one might be slightly worse because of over-crowding.
I have reservations about recommending this novel – it’s challenging and written in an odd syntax that’s hard to get used to, but if the topic’s of interest to you, give it a try. As far as I know, The Loom of Youth is easier to find a copy of digitally than physically.