I recently read one of those ‘Best novel you’ve never read’ articles, which featured Stoner by John Williams (“I’m amazed a novel this good has escaped attention for so long” Ian McEwan). I haven’t got hold of a copy yet, but I intend to.
Purely by coincidence, a short series of children’s books I enjoyed came to mind the other day that I feel fit into the junior category of ‘Best books you’ve never read’. These are the Uncle books of JP Martin that I discovered when I was in my early teens. I believe they were written in the 60s, and there were maybe four or five of them.
They were a gloriously bizarre, anarchic, almost surreal set of tales; probably rambling by modern standards, but extremely funny. Better still, they were illustrated by Quentin Blake, who in my opinion shares the honour of best ever children’s book illustrator with Edward Ardizzone.
Uncle (B.A., Oxon) is a wealthy elephant who lives in a vast castle called Homeward, wears a purple dressing gown, and who, although very refined, likes drinking cocoa from a bucket. Among his staff are his loyal servant the Old Monkey, Butterskin Mute, The One-Armed Badger, and his doughty security men Cloutman and Gubbins.
Doughty security men are indispensable, because living close by is his arch-enemy the envious Beaver Hateman, who is always plotting to embarrass or overthrow Uncle. His crowd includes the two Nailrods (senior and junior), the mysterious blob-like creature Jellytussle, and the nasty little Hitmouse, who has a tendency to slyly jab people with a skewer he always carries about.
It might all sound rather fairy tale-ish, it’s really not at all. In some ways the novels are like the literary precursor of Monty Python, and I have such fond of memories of Uncle that I now plan to see if I can dig up copies from somewhere and revisit them.