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!