Sunday, May 01, 2011

The Great Novel: Should Writers Quest for it?

Most writers are always known for a particular book no matter the number of books they write. So when we mention George Orwell, we think of 1984 (and sometimes Animal Farm), when Chinua Achebe is mentioned everybody thinks of Things Fall Apart (even though I believe Arrow of God, the last of the African Trilogy, is his best novel), When Chimamanda is mentioned, the novel is Half of a Yellow Sun. Alan Paton, though wrote several books, is known basically for Cry, the Beloved Country.

Whenever a writer's first book happens to be accepted by the critics as a great book, it is almost always the case that the writer is unable to match this earlier success. It is in the quest to better Catch-22, that Heller wrote the Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man, describing his frustrations* in an attempt to achieve the success that Catch-22 brought. However, some writers like Jonathan Franzen has achieved this feat. His second novel, Freedom, has followed the success of Corrections. I am leaving out those who write in series like J.K. Rowling and her Harry Potter Series.

The question this weekend is: Should writers write in quest of a great novel or a masterpiece? And for those who have achieved one in their writing career, whilst alive, should they work with the aim to better this? Wouldn't this put the writer under severe and unnecessary pressure? Couldn't it even lead to writers' block or whatever it is they call that inability to think and write? How should this person approach writing?
*Haven't yet read this novel. Statement here is based on what the blurb says.


  1. I don't really think that authors should aim for a masterpiece, because often, it's their whole oeuvre that impresses me, rather than what others consider to be their best work. I also think that trying to create a masterpiece would be frustrating and difficult for an author to achieve, since books are so subjective nowadays. This is a great question, and something that I have never given a lot of thought to Nana. Thanks for posing this here today.

  2. Thanks Zibilee. I agree with you. However, we have often seen some great authors come to extinction after a previous success because of this burden of trying to better it. I also believe as an author you should write what comes to you and forget whether it would be a masterpiece or not. In fact, it's always been the work of posterity to judge these things. Emily Dickinson published only seven pieces of poems when she was alive.


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