The surprise factor

How can you be sure if any subsequent book by author A is better than the first one he or she had published? It’s just about possible to say that an OK book wasn’t quite as wonderful as the first. But if it is a really fantastic novel, can I appreciate it properly?

I’m thinking here of three ladies, whose first books I adored. They are – in chronological order – Meg Rosoff, Candy Gourlay and Elizabeth Wein.*

How I Live Now had such an impact on me, that I simply do not know how and where on a scale (stupid things, anyway) I should put Meg’s other books. They are all exceptionally good. Some have been more enjoyable than others. But I had been wondering if anything could ever beat HILN.

Tall Story by Candy Gourlay wasn’t just all right. It kept surprising me and I was left feeling very happy afterwards. As someone I ‘knew’ before I read her debut book, I was also relieved Candy could actually write. Shine was another fantastic book, leaving me glowing. But was it as good?

And as for Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, that was the second best thing to hit me after HILN. (Never mind that I couldn’t even remember the title of it recently. That was merely a senior moment. I’d have been able to tell you the whole plot.) So when Rose Under Fire followed CNV, could it be as marvellous?

I know authors are supposed to get better with writing more books. Many do. Some remain excellent throughout. And I suppose some never quite manage what they wrote the first time round.

But I think what I’m getting at is that the sheer surprise of coming across one of the best books you’ve ever read, is one thing, while any subsequent book by the same author will never be a surprise. You know what they can do. You expect it. You hope for the very best.

So I wonder how I’d have felt about any of the later books by Meg, Candy and Elizabeth, if I’d not read their first novels. And if I’d then got to their debut books, would they have changed anything?

When you take a person’s details (schools, etc) people sometimes write down where in the sibling group they belong. Because it matters. Perhaps the same can be said for books? What might have happened to the sequel of To Kill a Mockingbird?

*I know. I know. It wasn’t Elizabeth’s first. It was my first, so it felt like it ought to have been hers too.

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