Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Second Novel Syndrome.

This term has been bandied about a bit lately thanks to the announcement that Audrey Niffenegger has received a whopping advance for her second novel. Expectations are running high for the novel, as are expectations that the knives will be out once it hits the stores.

This story in the Times mentions some high flying debut novelists whose second attempts have failed to live up to their first: Charles Frazier and Zadie Smith (who more than made up for it with the superb On Beauty in my opinion) for example. Included in the list is Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, which I would strongly argue does not deserve to be on a list of failures. Sure, she had the syndrome bad probably, which is why it took her so long to write (ten years between outings) but I thought it was very good book - a very different book, but a good one nonetheless.

Of course all of this has come to my attention because I am working on my own second novel after a reasonably well received first novel. I am constantly being asked by people if I feel under pressure to live up to my first. My answer is that of course I do, but it's not other people's expectations that I feel acutely, but my own. I just want to write a better book. I am writing a better book (she says, hoping that statement won't come back to bite her on the behind!). It's been 7 years since I started The Sound of Butterflies - I should be a better writer by now. So, yes intense pressure, thanks very much, but I don't think it is to do with Second Novel Syndrome. I hope I never rest on my laurels and feel released from that kind of pressure, because that's when I have stopped trying to improve.

All a writer can do when faced with something like SNS is to ignore it and sit down and write the best book he or she can write. And that goes for third, fourth and fifth novels. 

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

All enquiries re SNS should be addressed to: K. Hulme, Okarito, West Coast. Replies make take some time...

Gondal-girl said...

Stuff the Times!

Damon said...

It's true: second novels are terrible.

Good examples include: Pride and Prejudice, Ulysses and Girl With a Pearl Earring.

Oh. Wait.

Jeff said...

I finally got around to reading The Little Friend last year & thought it was really good. I had put off reading it for so long thinking that it wouldn't be a good read. Took a while to get into, but well worth the effort.

And you're absolutely right that all you can do is to write the best book you can.

emmadarwin said...

Lots of reasons for SNS, and most of them are nothing to do with the writer and their writing:

1) Two is actually One, which didn't sell, being pulled out from under the bed and dusted off

2) As someone said, you can be a lot of things to your spouse of twenty years, but new and surprising is not one of them. Some of what caught attention about your first novel is You. And because all your novels, inevitably, are written by You, Two cannot be as new and surprising as One was.

and some more, but I think I might have to go back to my own blog and work them out properly!

Emily said...

I've stumbled across your blog quite by accident, but thank you for sharing - I just finished your first novel last night! And despite any nods towards SNS, I will eagerly anticipate any additional writing you do. (I also am excited about the nods towards other books you mention here, as I currently have a list of over 350 books I want to read! so your site just piqued my interest for more!) - emily