Few authors are as versatile as Barry Unsworth, whose works range from the Booker-winning historical novel Sacred Hunger–a thick (though enormously entertaining)
philosophical and wide-ranging exploration of capitalism and the slave trade–to Morality Play–a medieval murder mystery–to Pascali’s Island — a story of love and intrigue on a Greek Island during the waning days of the Ottoman Empire (1912). He’s equally at home inside the head of a mentally ill reclusive (Losing Nelson) and among the gods and heroes of ancient mythology (Songs of the Kings). You want light and funny? try After Hannibal, a very nice little piece about life among ex-pats of various countries in rural Umbria (the path Hannibal took to Rome). He’s also done a sort of history/travelogue on Crete. Called Crete.
Unsworth hasn’t been as celebrated as some other Booker winners such as Ian McEwen and Kazuo Ishiguro, possibly because his range makes him difficult to pigeonhole. If you’re looking for an Unsworth kind of book, you won’t find it. With McEwen and Ishiguro, you have a much better idea of what you’re going to get.
You might think movie credits would help. Pascali’s Island made a very nice little film with Ben Kingsley and Helen Mirren. Morality Play became The Reckoning (albeit with a less distinguished cast), but neither was a blockbuster which made a household name out of the writer. Films don’t do that for writers anyhow, just for actors and directors.
So we have the case of one of the most powerful writers of our time confined to–well, not obscurity, but at least to a lesser status–because his versatility makes him hard to market? Could be. It wouldn’t be the first time in this benighted age that logo beat out quality.