Monday, October 03, 2016

The best debut novel

Here is a list. What struck me after a bit was how few of the authors ever wrote a better novel than that first one. Maybe it's better to write a fair first novel and go on to greater things.

The most amazing first novel I ever read was WHITE TEETH by Zadie Smith. She wrote in in her early twenties but it had the maturity of a seasoned writer. A London teeming with immigrants of all ages, she got it perfectly and was equally adept at creating men and women.

My favorite debut novel in the crime genre would be A KISS BEFORE DYING by Ira Levin.

What's your favorite debut novel?

22 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Interesting question, Patti. I think the Levin is excellent. So is le Carré's Call For the Dead. There are several others I think are stunning, too.

George said...

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

Jeffrey Meyerson said...

Yes, where is A KISS BEFORE DYING? Or A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES, for that matter. Or THE MOVIEGOER.

I don't think BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES really belongs. Yes, it was Wolfe's first novel, but he'd published a dozen books before that.

Bill Crider said...

Catch-22.

Lillian Baldwin said...

George beat me to Harper Lee's novel. So I will name instead Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. It is not really a crime novel (although the protagonist does kill someone I think), but it was a great "first novel." As for crime novels, I nominate Agatha Christie's The Mysterious Affair at Styles. It is a great introduction to Hercule Poirot!

Graham Powell said...

The Big Sleep. And opinions vary, but I think Chandler did write a better novel, in The Long Goodbye.

pattinase (abbott) said...

All great choices!

J F Norris said...

GEEK LOVE is a very good choice in that list of "Best Firsts". THE SECRET HISTORY and THE WASP FACTORY have to be two of the most overrated and derivative books on any "Best of" list. So tired of seeing those two books touted as being innovative and noteworthy. Both are derivative of better known thrillers. THE WASP FACTORY is ineptly told with a "surprise twist" ironically telegraphed within the first few chapters. I think it's pretty obvious from the start, but others have told me they were shocked by the ending.

Off the top of my head I can think of these few debuts since 1950 that impressed me to no end.

BIRDY - William Wharton
EDWIN MULLHOUSE - Steven Millhauser
MYSTERIOUS SKIN - Scott Heim
THE KILLINGS AT BADGER'S DRIFT - Caroline Graham

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved Birdy especially!

seana graham said...

I'm with you on White Teeth. I continue to read Zadie, and will, but nothing since has quite lived up to that original dazzling novel.

pattinase (abbott) said...

It was a real knockout for me too.

neer said...

I am with John. THE SECRET HISTORY is much too over-rated. I think Arundhati Roy's GOD OF SMALL THINGS was a brilliant debut.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Been meaning to read that one for years.

seana graham said...

I agree on The Secret History as well, but have been told by several people not to be put off reading The Goldfinch on that account. And I suppose the truth is that the books we've been discussing are exceptions to the rule and most writers actually do get better.

pattinase (abbott) said...

My husband loved The Goldfinch but not me. I find her pretentious.

Todd Mason said...

I'm happy to Pile On...John F. is 110% about both THE SECRET HISTORY and THE WASP FACTORY, the latter aggressively stupid at it's "shocking twist" core. Banks did much better later. I doubt Tartt will ever do better, and that's not a compliment...albeit she's still vastly better than Bennington classmate Bret Easton Ellis, if not nearly as good as their dropout classmate Jonathan Lethem.

My first thought among best first novels runs to CONJURE WIFE by Fritz Leiber. I'm not sure he wrote a completely better novel, and that is a compliment.

pattinase (abbott) said...

CONJURE WIFE has to be your most oft-mentioned book. And probably WHITE TEETH is mine.

Todd Mason said...

It could vie with THE FEMALE MAN by Joanna Russ, if not quite the collective bulk of ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS: anthologies...

Todd Mason said...

Did you see the WHITE TEETH miniseries?

seana graham said...

I saw the White Teeth miniseries, and I know friends who liked it a lot, but I felt that although faithful, it didn't somehow capture what was magical about the book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Didn't know there was one. Have to look for it.

Todd Mason said...

I think Seana's assessment is fair...the series is good enough but not compelling. Some nice performances.