Amazing writers, never heard of 'em
June 19, 2023 1:20 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for recommendations for amazing fiction writers that I am unlikely to have heard of before. I have recently had really good luck with novels by some "hidden" authors (Catherine Chidgey's The Axeman's Carnival was incredible, as was Murray Lee's Compass). At the same time, I have a giant stack of half-finished books next to my bed that were highly promoted but I found were just kind of meh--dull and unoriginal. Who else is a sharp new talent worth chasing down?
posted by sonofsnark to Media & Arts (27 answers total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly new, but you might not have heard of him: Rohinton Mistry. I've read all of his books, and A Fine Balance (link to Wikipedia page which includes a plot summary and lots of spoilers) is my favourite. I liked that it let me take a deep-dive into a society about which I knew almost nothing.
posted by amf at 1:41 PM on June 19, 2023 [6 favorites]

Shirley Barrett's The Bus on Thursday comes to mind. Sadly, Barrett died after writing only two novels.

I am also very fond of Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club by Megan Coles.

Lakewood by Megan Giddings got a good amount of attention but it has a niche feel to me. Giddings is definitely one to watch.
posted by BibiRose at 2:03 PM on June 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

Can't help you with the "new" part, but lesser-known...

Leonard Gardner's Fat City
Helen Garner's Monkey Grip
Arthur Nersesian's The Fuck-up
Claire Keegan's Small Things Like These
Jon Fosse's Septology
Kathryn Scanlan's Kick the Latch
Catherine Lacy's Biography of X
Fernanda Melchor
László Krasznahorkai
Angela Carter
Keith Ridgway's A Shock
Wendy Erskine
Judith Schalansky's An Inventory of Losses
posted by dobbs at 2:07 PM on June 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

What are the dull books?

I was recently very amused by Under the Net by Iris Murdoch.
posted by haptic_avenger at 2:15 PM on June 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

This is my technique for finding new (to me) good stories. I go to a library that has been around a long time, so an old public library or a university library with a fiction section, and look out for the number of titles by a single author.

If the library has a lot of different novels by an author I've never heard of, I take it to mean they were very popular in their day. My reasoning is that they must have been good if they were repeatedly published and public libraries bothered to hold onto them rather than purging them from their collections.

I've discovered some fascinating books this way!
posted by EllaEm at 3:05 PM on June 19, 2023 [15 favorites]

Annie Freeman's Traveling Funeral by Kris Radish. Found it in a thrift store, and grabbed it on a whim. LOVED this book, so I went online to a used bookstore and found others of hers (haven't read them yet)

Whistling Past the Graveyard. Also found in a used book store. I have a hard time concentrating sometimes, and I didn't want to put this book down.
posted by annieb at 3:53 PM on June 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is wonderful, but dark, as it deals with child murders in India. The author worked as a journalist in India and reported on the impact of poverty and religious violence on children. From NPR: "Anappara says she was disturbed by lurid media accounts of the disappearances of children in India; by some estimates, as many as 180 children each day. Anappara turned to fiction because she wanted to return the focus to the children themselves, as well as to their resilience, cheerfulness and swagger. "

A Tale for the Time Being is also great, written by a Buddhist priest. A lot of it is presented as the diary of a sixteen-year-old girl. That voice put me off at first, but once I got through the first chapter, I got into it.
posted by FencingGal at 3:53 PM on June 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

William Maxwell's The Came Like Swallows is a wonderful novel about a family going through the 1918 flu pandemic. I read it about 15 years ago, then revisited it in 2021. I really enjoyed it the first time I read it. It was totally different, but still engaging, when read during the COVID pandemic.
posted by OrangeDisk at 5:41 PM on June 19, 2023 [2 favorites]

"Amazing" isn't a lot to go on, but I've found a lot of excellent less-known authors often described as a writer's writer. (Google it.)

Also, not new but just outstandingly curated are New York Review Books' loads of reprints of authors who are more or less obscure/forgotten/underappreciated.

All that aside: David Gates, Melanie Finn, James Hannaham, Atticus Lish, Gina Berriault, J. Robert Lennon, Lucia Berlin, Jean Thompson, Dan Chaon, Adam Langer
posted by scratch at 6:50 PM on June 19, 2023 [6 favorites]

I agree that "amazing" isn't a lot to work with, but based on the critique "dull and unoriginal" I'm going to go ahead and assume that you want something that most people aren't talking about and that isn't really like other books out there. In which case I recommend:
Y/N by Esther Yi (like if Kobo Abe wrote about BTS)
The Employees by Olga Ravn (surreal capitalism commentary, in space)
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (an angry blowhard does nothing of importance in 1066, you'll know within a few pages if you're gonna love it or hate it, it'll be one of the two)
Bride of the Tornado by James Kennedy (Night Vale meets Fever Dream)
People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi Kawakami (suburban fairy tales)
Amatka by Karin Tidbeck (uncategorizable spec fic about the nature of language)
Friday Black by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah (relentless, razor-sharp short stories—I'm cheating a little because he got a fair amount of well-deserved shine for this collection and now has a novel out but if you haven't read him, do)

"Dull" is in the eye of the beholder but I don't think any of these can be called unoriginal. You may also want to look for lists of best debuts and see what catches your fancy there—it's always easier to find new-to-you authors when the authors are also new.
posted by babelfish at 8:04 PM on June 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

I was recently at a bookstore with a shelf labelled "cool weird books for our cool weird friends"-- my heart!-- none of which I had heard of.

On it were (the ones I remember)

On Lighthouses, Jazmina Berrera
Tears of the Trufflepig, Fernando Flores
The Illiterate, Agota Kristof
The Employees, Olga Ravn
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:16 PM on June 19, 2023 [3 favorites]

These are all Canadian authors, so there’s a good likelihood you haven’t heard of them/been exposed to them:
  • David Chariandy. His novel Brother, set in a part of Toronto called Scarborough, is a powerful story about what it means to be Black in a predominantly white and racist culture.
  • Michael Christie. His recent novel, Greenwood, was one of the best novels I read last year. The Guardian article I linked basically called it a Steinbeckian eco-parable, which I think is a good description.
  • Thammavonga Souvankham. Her brilliant short story collection, How to Pronounce Knife, won the Giller Prize in 2020. It’s about the lives of Lao immigrants in an unnamed country (that is probably Canada since the book is semi autobiographical and Souvankham and her family were Lao immigrants to Canada).
  • Miriam Toews. Actually it is possible you have heard of her because this year a film based on one of her novels, Women Talking, won several Academy Awards. That novel of hers is particularly good, as is her most recent, Fight Night.
  • Richard Wagamese. Wagamese was a beloved Indigenous author who wrote the searing Indian Horse, a novel about the real-life abuse endured by Indigenous children in mandatory Canadian residential schools.
All these novels deal with difficult topics, so consider them all to have content warnings, but there is a great deal of beautiful writing in them as well.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:25 PM on June 19, 2023 [5 favorites]

A Tale for the Time Being is wonderful, as is everything by Ruth Ozeki. I would start with My Year of Meats, her debut. I see that Goodreads puts Ozeki in a category with Meiko Kawakami and Sayaka Murata, both authors I like, but she doesn't belong in a category with them at all past the Japanese last name.
posted by BibiRose at 3:40 AM on June 20, 2023 [4 favorites]

Amazing and original are not very precise and I am not sure what particular books to recommend, but when I am looking for amazingly original in a book my strategy is to look for translations. Archipelago Books, Deep Vellum, The Dalkey Archive, QC Fiction, Bison Books, and Europa Editions all specialize in literature in translation and I hve really liked everything I have read from them.

And New York Review Books are almost always delightful. Small and university presses can also usually be trusted to publish more unusual and interesting things, though they can be harder to track down.

Good luck!
posted by spindle at 8:23 AM on June 20, 2023 [6 favorites]

Another not new recommendation but still one of my favorites: Handling Sin by Michael Malone.
posted by tafetta, darling! at 9:47 AM on June 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

Have you read any of Christopher Beha's novels? I absolutely loved Arts & Entertainments, which is probably 10-ish years old by now.
posted by Polycarp at 2:38 PM on June 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

I haven't read all of his books, but The Wasted Vigil by Nadeem Aslam blew me away when I read it a decade or so ago.
posted by snakeling at 3:16 PM on June 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

William Maxwell's The Came Like Swallows is a wonderful novel about a family going through the 1918 flu pandemic.

Everything Maxwell wrote is worth reading. So Long, See You Tomorrow is my favorite.

I'll also add these two by Steve Erickson: Zeroville (as a film lover, this is the best fictional book I've ever read about film; check out this list of referenced movies; ignore the fact that a shit movie was made of the book, the book's a masterpiece) and These Dreams of You.

Also, not little-known, but maybe not known to you, my favorite book: Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson.
posted by dobbs at 3:48 PM on June 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

I recently discovered Perceval Everett's bitter fantastic satire Dr No, then his Telephone, which is quite different: realistic and heart-rending.
posted by JonJacky at 6:32 PM on June 20, 2023 [3 favorites]

My wife's strategy is to pick a literary prize (say, Man Booker) and a year (say, 2018), and then work her way down the list of nominees, figuring that they had to be pretty good just to be nominated.

She's discovered some authors she truly loves this way.
posted by heyitsgogi at 8:05 AM on June 27, 2023 [5 favorites]


There's a lot of great stuff right now getting reissued . You could do worse than starting with the NYRB Classics catalog (also there are some fantastic titles coming out through the McNally Editions via McNally Jackson.

Also, Backlisted is a fantastic podcast for this kind of thing.

Less obscure, maybe, but I sometimes browse around Penguin Modern Classics (the UK site is better) and see what turns up.

But in general, I just tell everyone to read Oreo by Fran Ross. and Troubles by JG Farrell, which probably says more about my taste than anything else, but more people should read both of them.
posted by thivaia at 8:49 AM on June 27, 2023 [3 favorites]

Loving these recommendations, especially from the NYRB Classics catalog, which has so much good stuff, including Adolofo Bioy Casares' surreal The Invention of Morel (basically the novel of Last Year at Marienbad), introduced by Jorge Luis Borges.

I'm super-grateful as well for spindle's links to small presses, and would love to hear recommendations for other small presses like Tartarus, Coffee House, Small Beer, Subterranean, etc.
posted by vitia at 10:09 AM on June 27, 2023 [2 favorites]

Go to the library and track down the two weighty volumes of Steven Moore’s The Novel: An Alternative History:

- Beginnings to 1600 ( all the way back to ancient Egypt)
- 1600 to 1800

He looks at literature from all over the world in this massive survey of the lesser known up to some classics still in print over centuries. He has a slightly snarky style but his books are a good read themselves. Moore is a proponent of William Gaddis, a lesser known American author from the 50’s, who is worth looking at.

While at the library, find a copy of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Open it up to a random page and start reading. I did that back in the late 60’s and I am still reading it.
posted by njohnson23 at 5:36 PM on June 27, 2023 [1 favorite]

Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik has received some attention, but I'd never heard of it before I picked it up because the spine caught my attention on the library shelf. I found it to be a tremendous book that I easily devoured.
posted by obfuscation at 5:46 AM on June 28, 2023

He's a strong flavour, but I like Donald Ray Pollock.
posted by Paul Slade at 5:44 AM on June 29, 2023

Coming late to suggest the bibliomystery The Haunted Bookshop (1919) by Christopher Morley "In every bookstore, small or large, there are books we have not read; books which may have messages of unsuspected beauty or importance. They may be new books, they may be of yesterday, or of long ago. . . We have what you need, though you may not know you need it."
posted by BobTheScientist at 1:17 AM on June 30, 2023

If you have not read Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy, please add it to your list. She is an exceptional writer, it's a moving and important story. The other books by her I've read are also very worthwhile.

I'm reading Capital, John Lanchester. It's really good. I've had a reading slump and it's a great combination of readable and intelligent. I read a thread on reddit asking for novels about class and added a bunch of books to my list.

Elizabeth Strout is quite good.

These are not new talents, but read them.
posted by theora55 at 7:43 PM on July 9, 2023

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