Great -- and Way Too Often Overlooked -- Novels by Famous Authors

Here are five stepchildren -- terrific novels overshadowed by their creators' more famous or better-selling works:

1. No Name (1862), by Wilkie Collins. Collins's The Woman in White and The Moonstone are giants of sensationalist fiction, but No Name, a dizzying spiral of impersonation and revenge, is just as good.

2. Victory (1915), by Joseph Conrad. Most critics prefer Lord Jim or Nostromo, but I agree with F. R. Leavis's assessment of this novel about self-exile as "the one that answers most nearly to the stock notion of [Conrad's] genius."

3. The Children (1928), by Edith Wharton. Late in her career, after winning the Pulitzer Prize for The Age of Innocence, Wharton wrote this tragicomedy in which a lonely bachelor gets caught up in the tangled lives of a group of kids.

4. The Water-Method Man (1972), by John Irving. The World According to Garp was Irving's breakthrough book, but this early, mordant comedy about a grad student in English is his best.

5. The March (2005), by E.L. Doctorow. Ragtime is a modern classic, but this recent Civil War novel runs a close second in Doctorow's oeuvre.

If you have your own candidate for a slighted novel by a well-known writer, please let us know about it!

-- Dennis Drabelle

By Christian Pelusi |  February 28, 2008; 10:49 AM ET Dennis Drabelle , Fiction
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Regarding Conrad, I have the warmest spot in my heart reserved for The Secret Agent, for whatever reason (purely subjective, of course).

In terms of my own personal favorite from an author who is perhaps lauded more for another work -- I would have to say Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, over Gravity's Rainbow.

Posted by: C | February 28, 2008 2:10 PM

With the exception of the last novel he wrote, I love anything and everything by Wallace Stegner. He ranks high, if not first, on my top ten author's list.

Although his Angle of Repose captured the Pulitzer Prize, I have always preferred The Big Rock Candy Mountain, a harsh portrayal of a less-than-storybook family in the American West in the early 1900s. If this story is, as often reported, a thinly veiled autobiography, Stegner is truly to be admired for his accomplishments.

Posted by: Shirley S | February 28, 2008 4:56 PM

One might also add that The Crying of Lot 49 is also about one 50th the length of Gravity's Rainbow!

Posted by: drabelle | February 29, 2008 2:41 PM

Evelyn Waugh seems to get the most praise for his novels A Handful of Dust, Scoop, and (the just as often derided ) Brideshead Revisited, but none of them capture the manic satire of Vile Bodies.

I also enjoyed Black Mischief more than the three masterpieces listed above.

Posted by: basil | February 29, 2008 4:11 PM

Great list, Posties. Saul Bellow's Dangling Man (his first) doesn't have the verbal pyrotechnics of Augie or Herzog, but its a wonderful distillation of his themes and wit, and so holds its own with anything in his body of work.

How about Great Novels by Great Poets? People may know Dickey's Deliverance and Onjanadie's (sp) English Patient, but Merrill's The (Diblos) Notebook and Larkin's A Girl in Winter are even more worthy, and trippier stuff like Ashbery's A NEstful of Ninnies and W.C. William White Mule are worth checking out.

Posted by: Mark Tarallo | March 1, 2008 12:19 AM

The Ashbery title is actually "A Nest of Ninnies," and what a good title it is!

Posted by: drabelle | March 1, 2008 10:21 AM

I suggest Burmese Days by George Orwell. The novel takes place in the hot house atomsphere of the British Empire. The plot rings true and the main character is a complex rendering of a British merchant, not at home in either England or Burma.

Posted by: Barbara | March 1, 2008 7:03 PM

Jim Harrison's novella Legends of the Fall has enjoyed great acclaim as has his brilliant novel Dalva. Dalva's sequel, The Road Home, stands on its own as my favorite work of Harrison. Muscular, beautiful and profound it is Harrison at his best.
I agree with Shirley S. that Wallace Stegner is one of our best. The West, both as a region and a state of mind,is producing some of America's finest stories. Stegner helped lead the way.

Posted by: Michael Bartley | March 3, 2008 3:59 PM

Most readers know Cormac McCarthy for Blood Meridian, the Border Trilogy, No Country for Old Men (thanks to the film), or The Road (thanks to Oprah), but few besides his true fans know of his marvelous novel Suttree. Set in 1950s Knoxville, it follows the scion of a wealthy family who chucks it all and takes up as a fisherman on the Tennessee River. Picaresque in style, it offers some wonderful characters out of the city's underbelly and the funniest dialogue you'll ever find in a novel. And for those who can't stomach the ubiquitous McCarthy gore, it's also a lot less bloody than many of his other works.

Posted by: Bill | March 4, 2008 1:59 PM

I agree with Bill on Cormac McCarthy. While my favorite is still All the Pretty Horses, McCarthy's Child of God is less well known and underappreciated. It is grotesque and gory (although not with the violence of Blood Meridian), but it also evokes sympathy for its strange character and is often very funny. While definitely not for those with a weak stomach, it is a rewarding novel.

Posted by: Shirley S | March 6, 2008 4:22 PM

Posted by: celebrity testimony iceberg | April 3, 2008 5:50 AM

i agree with previous comments about Suttree, the first McCarthy novel I read, and my favorite until The Road. I also recommend the quartet by John Crowley: The Aegypt Cycle. Crowley is only now getting recognition for his early novel Little,Big, but the quartet is a hugely important series of novels, both in content and style, and is being reprinted in new editions. Add also Pynchon's V and Gass's Ommensetter's Luck, two novels that reconfigured fiction but are not as widely known as they should be.

Posted by: john d. | April 7, 2008 9:49 AM

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