Creating a list of books I’ve enjoyed reading in my life (which I’ve split into those I’ve enjoyed reading and those that have left a lasting impression), made me think about authors who have just written one book. Immediate examples are Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) and Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind).
Much has been written on the topic of "one-book" authors who don’t stop writing. I thought I’d try to list authors who have written one good book but in my opinion could have stopped there. They might have written other quite reasonable books, just nowhere near the class of their "magnum opus". Or they might hvae been better advised not have bothered with further books.
- Jay McInerny — Bright Lights, Big City
- Zadie Smith — White Teeth
- Irvine Welsh — Trainspotting
- Tama Janowitz — Slaves of New York
- Donna Tartt — A Secret History
- John Irving — The World According to Garp
- J D Salinger — Catcher in the Rye
- Kurt Vonnegut — Slaughterhouse 5
- Aldhous Huxley — Brave New World
- Philip Roth — Portnoy’s Complaint
There may be others in this category whose "main" book I have not read: Brett Easton Ellis (American Psycho) , Kasuko Ishigura (Remains of the Day), Louis de Bernieres (Captain Correlli’s Mandolin), Patrick Suskind (Perfume), Iain Banks (The Wasp Factory), Jonathan Coe (The Rotters’ Club), Jonathan Franzen (The Corrections). Also others whose "main" book I haven’t liked so could not read others — for example, Flann O’Brien (the Third Policeman, currently enjoying a renewal owing to "Lost" being allegedly based on it) and Richard Ford (Sportswriter).
Other authors, whether or not they are to one’s taste (some of the below are emphatically not to mine), write plenty of books — some may be "better" than others, but one does not stand out from the rest. Examples (of living authors) include:
- Ian McEwan
- Julian Barnes
- Nick Hornby
- Nickki Gerrard
- Anita Shreve
- Sebastian Faulkes
- Anita Brookner
- Margaret Atwood
If Kurt Vonnegut only wrote one book, I would want it to be Cat’s Cradle, not Slaughterhouse Five.
And Iain Banks has written better things than The Wasp Factory: certainly The Crow Road, possibly The Bridge, and if you like science fiction then Player of Games and Use of Weapons.
Thank you, Richard — I’m ashamed to say I have never read any Iain Banks but I have read a few comments in reviews of his books that WF was his best one. Now you mention The Crow Road, I think it was dramatised on TV. I will give one of those you mention a try.
I did read Cats Cradle and one other Vonnegut, but I thought Slaughterhose 5 stood out. I suppose there is an element of randomness in book appreciation as well as in which authors actually get published!