Thursday, 26 August 2010

Third Time Lucky

My recent experiences - as documented this week - with Muriel Spark and Evelyn Waugh have led me to wonder about Third Time Lucky Syndrome. This is, of course, a syndrome I have entirely fabricated... Back in June 2007 (gosh, that makes me feel old) I made up Second Book Syndrome. Not the 'tricky second novel' for the author - but the tricky second novel for the reader. I.e., you've loved a novel by an author - and then the next one you read doesn't live up to your expectations. Not necessarily an I-hate-this-book situation, just something of a disappointment. I had it with Frank Baker, which has discouraged me from reading the backlog of Baker novels waiting for me, after Before I Go Hence was so much worse than Miss Hargreaves. I had the same experience with Edith Olivier, and probably other people... let me know if you've experienced Second Book Syndrome, with examples please.


But onto the topic for today - which is basically Second Book Syndrome in reverse. The first book you read by the author doesn't blow you away... but the second does. This was my experience with Penelope Fitzgerald (Human Voices = no; The Bookshop = genius) and Susan Hill (The Battle for Gullywith = did nothing for me; Howards End is on the Landing, The Beacon, In the Springtime of the Year = Hill becomes one of my favourite post-war writers). But - you perspicacious folk will have noticed - it's Third Time Lucky Syndrome we're talking about today. How likely is it that we'll - that you'll - read one unimpressive book, another unimpressive book, and then persevere onto the third? (By 'unimpressive', I of course mean that it failed to impress that individual reader - these things are subjective, of course).

Which gets me thinking. If an author is renowned, then I will probably give them a second chance (unless I really hate the first book I try - I'm looking at you, Lionel Shriver) but I doubt I'd often give them a third, nor would I even bother with a second if the author's name meant nothing to me. Of course, Spark and Waugh are a bit different because I quite liked the first two I tried - it just wasn't til the third that I was bowled over.

I'd love to know your thoughts. How many chances are you willing to give an author? Have you found that you loved the third (say) book you read by a previously uninspiring author? Not necessarily their third published novel, of course, but the third one you encounter. Will you persevere with an author you feel a bit ho-hum about, or are the tbr piles so tottering that it's one-strike-and-you're-out?

Let me know!

22 comments:

  1. Great question! I'm willing to give authors several chances as they often produce very different books. I have frequently loved a book and then failed to enjoy any of their subsequent ones and so it makes sense to keep trying with authors that haven't bowed me first time around. I'm still hoping that I'll find an Ian McEwan or Margaret Stood book to love.3rd time lucky?

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  2. Agh!! I hate predictive text! That should say Atwood!

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  3. I sort of wonder if this is going to happen to me with Penelope Fitzgerald. I liked both The Gate of Angels and The Bookshop, but neither really satisfied me, and I've yet to try a third.

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  4. I tend not to give an author more than two goes and that depends on the author (as you say, if they're renowned then they are deserving of more time). I honestly can't think of a time where Third Time Lucky Syndrome has applied to me, I'm afraid, unless you count loving Mrs Dalloway the third time I read it...

    P.S. The Love-Child has "a quiet beauty to it"!

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  5. I disliked all of Michael Gruber's early books (could never get past the first couple of pages) but, for whatever reason - I think it was the subject matter - I picked up THE BOOK OF AIR AND SHADOWS and was absolutely blown away. LOVED it. Then THE FORGERY OF VENUS - same reaction. It was almost as if this was a different writer. So, it does happen. But not often. I generally only give a writer two books (any two, they do not, necessarily, have to be the first two). But I NEVER, for ANY reason, finish a book I'm not liking. Life's too short.

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  6. Hmmm...I guess this is an author by author thing. I absolutely hated The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (got maybe 100 pages in before I chucked it), but she's one of my sil's favorite writers so I keep thinking I should give her another go, but you hit the nail on the head when you said, "are there too many good ones on the tbr shelf to give her another go?" -- I do think life is too short to waste time on bad books!

    That said, "classic" authors do tend to get at least two shots before I chunk them. Last year I read The Red Pony by John Steinbeck and found it very depressing, but I loved his Travels With Charley that I read with Cornflower and that was enough to prompt me to keep The Grapes of Wrath on the "someday I'll read it" list. Those were the first two authors that came to mind. I'll be interested to see how other people feel about this (of course, it may just boil down to how much free reading time you have).

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  7. I did not imagine that any other book by Jane Gardam would come up to the high standard set by Old Filth. I have so far read three of Gardam's other novels and have yet to be disppointed.

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  8. I adore The Bookshop! I give authors one strike - and then they are out. Life is way too short.

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  9. Oooh what a good question Simon! Its a really subjective thing with me. If I like the first book I read by an author I will read more but wont rush, if I loved it I hurry off and buy everything I can get my mitts on (well I do when I am buying books) and invariably take a while to read another.If I dont like a first book by a new, old, anything author I don't tend to rush out and read anything by them again unless I hear great things.

    Back to the question of third chances, I always give em. However... that would be my last chance saloon I think if all had been duds for me or the last two... I think!

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  10. If I loved a book by an author, I always end up giving them second and third chances. Can't seem to help it, heh heh. However, if I didn't like their first book, then it's likely I won't bother with the rest unless someone really recommends them to me. Great question Simon.

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  11. Susan in TX and famelanebooks: Have you read Lady Oracle? Pure classic Atwood at her best.

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  12. Sue in Tx, re: John Steinbeck. If you get a chance, try: THE PEARL and OF MICE AND MEN. (I think these two may be novellas. At least, they're both quick reads.) Those are my two favorite Steinbecks next to EAST OF EDEN which, for me, qualifies as 'a great, thumping good read.' Don't give up on Steinbeck, lots of good reading there.

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  13. Susan in TX, Steinbeck: Of Mice and Men

    Susan/Jackie, Margaret Atwood: Alias Grace

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  14. Just stumbled upon your blog...great stuff!
    There are a few authors I will automatically read, because they are so good and/or they publish so infrequently (Alice Munro, Mary Doria Russell.) With most others, even if I liked their previous work, I'll pick a book up and look through it to see if I think I'll like it.
    I loved The Master Butchers Singing Club, but the next Erdrich book I read did not blow me away. That happens often.
    Hello from a new blogger!

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  15. The little stranger by Sarah Waters was, for me, the perfect book found just at that time where I've been having bad luck with my selection of books. I enjoyed and savoured every bit of it. Even rushing home to read it. Unfortunately the second book I bought written by Waters was "nigh watch" which is the more famous one....but it was disappointing. I've left it to the side. Will try reading it again one day

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  16. There are some authors I run to again and again - mostly because I can predict the kind of challenge or satisfaction the book is likely to give me. When younger, like many people, I got 'stuck' on authors and read one title after another. I confess that in those days it tended to be the plot and the people that hooked me. Then there were the books about places - eg Daphne du Maurier's Cornish settings (Poldark popped in for the same reason) or books set in Suffolk, the Lakes, Yorkshire and so on.
    Nowadays I look for a mood and something to sweep me into another place - and. maybe, time. Escapism? Perhaps, but a challenge too sometimes.
    So it could be first, second, third or umpteenth go... with a particular author.
    (I still can't face ICB though!)

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  17. It was the other way around for me. I did not like Spark's first two books I read but I did enjoy the third!!!

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  18. I so enjoyed Miss Buncle's Book this year that I was eager to read anything else by D.E. Stevenson that I could find, but Mrs. Tim of the Regiment wasn't really my thing and I still haven't finished it. It's cute, but finding out it was basically cobbled together from her own diary as a military wife, it felt very odd reading it, not knowing what was fiction and what fact (I nearly drove myself nuts trying to figure that out while reading Proust too!) So it detracted from the story for me, although I know others love it. I also have Miss Buncle Married from the library and haven't really gotten into that yet either.

    I keep giving Dickens chances to prove himself and he keeps letting me down (finished Bleak House, couldn't get through A Tale of Two Cities or Great Expectations). However I still bought Our Mutual Friend recently, I'm much more willing to give classic authors of the 19th century persuasion more chances!

    I really liked A.S. Byatt's novella Morpho Eugenia (published in the book Angels & Insects) but couldn't get into The Biographer's Tale, the second book I bought of hers, for years. Finally I exchanged it for The Virgin in the Garden which was much better and then got onto Possession at last, which I also enjoyed. So there's a combination of second time unlucky but third (and fourth) time working out again.

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  19. Great post and lots of fun comments here. I don't finish books that I hate, so if I manage to finish a book there was something redeeming about it and I will probably consider a second go with the author.

    I had the opposite experience with Penelope Fitzgerald. I was so/so on The Bookshop (which has grown on me) but I really enjoyed Human Voices.

    @Dark Puss: tbr means "to be read"

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  20. I generally only give authors one or two chances. The only third time lucky syndrome that I can think of that applies to me is with E.M. Delafield. I bought an omnibus copy of Diary of a Provincial Lady and its sequels. Diary of a PL was readable, but I was disappointed. The same with The PL Goes Further. It was only with The PL in America that something just kind of clicked. I think that if I didn't have an omnibus edition, I probably would have stopped at Diary of a PL.

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  21. I so enjoyed everyone's responses to this, thanks everyone! Such an interesting topic, once you scratch beneath the surface.

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