Why I shall be avoiding every author’s swansong from now on.

Reading-wise this hasn’t been a very good year for me. Even though my To-Be-Read List is considerably lighter than it was six months ago, 3 books especially, stand out for having proved big disappointments.

One was legitimately awful while the other two were not bad, but only proved dissatisfying because my expectations of them were so high. I think the disappointments were harder to take considering that all those three books were written by some of my favourite authors. (I had made my choices based on this fact)

One of them being Bram Stoker. As creator of one of the most famous horror novels ever, I thought it worth my while to give another one of his books my attention.

When I say that Lair Of The White Worm was ‘legitimately awful’, I say it with confidence only because I know I’m not being critical. While reading it, I came across far too many WTF moments. Apart from the errors and numerous inconsistencies, some of the scenes, imagery and subplots were so crazy and surreal that the story started to take on farcical proportions. I was left scratching my head as I read of supernatural kite-flying and weird hypnotic mind battles. Not what I expected from the author of Dracula. Even literary scholars have commented negatively on it, so I know I’m not the only one who feels this way about this novel.

However, I will admit, the same cannot be said for the OTHER two books that I read. Both works were critically acclaimed and one of them was highly recommended by people, whose opinions I rate very highly. Therefore I will not mention those two books and conclude that my disappointment with them stem from my own personal tastes rather than any flaws in the works themselves.

However, a strange coincidence revealed itself to me later on.

I’ll point out that all three books are very different in terms of genre, writing style and storylines etc. but they all happened to have one major thing in common: they were the last books these three authors had written before their deaths.  (Mindblown? No? Oh alright…)

On further investigation, I found out some pretty interesting information.

  •  The one unmentionable novel was not yet finished when the author suddenly passed away. The last few chapters were completed by another writer.
  • It is said that Bram Stoker died of syphilis in 1912. By the time he had finished Lair Of The White Worm in 1911, the disease had already reached the advanced stages. Mentally, Syphilis can be characterized by symptoms such as confusion, dementia, delirium and severe depression.

Well this certainly explains all the craziness in the novel!

In view of this new information, my sympathetic side was quick to pardon Mr. Stoker for this literary disaster. But this got me thinking. Should the background knowledge we have about an author affect the way we view their works? Should we allow sympathy to affect our judgement and objectivity? I know of people who refuse to even look at the book sleeve with the author’s bio when they purchase books, choosing to let the work stand on its own.

I’m the opposite however. I like reading up on the backgrounds and interests of the various writers whose works I read. It’s natural curiosity on my part to do so. But what do you think? If you read a book you thought was really bad but realised that the author was seriously ill when he/she wrote it, would you still be critical of it? Or do you think this information would help you to understand the story better?

Also have you ever thought about your WIP and wondered what would become of it if you ever passed away prematurely? A terribly morbid thought I know, but I mean, our stories are like our babies in a way. I assume you would not want it to be forgotten? Would you wish for someone to complete it and attempt to get it published?

And as for my reading luck, as sympathetic as I am towards authors and their personal sufferings, I am now dying to read a novel I know I will enjoy and these three books have now made me very superstitious. As a result I have since struck Dickens’ Mystery of Edwin Drood of my TBR list. No more literary swansongs for me, thank you very much.

NM 🙂

24 thoughts on “Why I shall be avoiding every author’s swansong from now on.

  1. nelle says:

    Hmmmm… they’d bury my work as not fit for recycling. 🙂

    It depends on the story. With several novels in the queue, I doubt another can take the vision and run with the story. This first one, yes, someone could do so… but the following storylines, not so much.

    My daughter aspires to write, and she could work with the stories, but… IMO they have to be somewhere near completion, say… 80% viable.

    On the question of health, absolutely. In fact, I believe a publisher commits an injustice if it publishes a well-known author’s subpar work without identifying mitigating circumstances.

    • Nisha says:

      Oh shoosh you! Your work is brilliant, a lot of people benefit from reading your stories and everybody should get a chance to read them! 🙂

      On a personal note I agree, if my WIP is not more than halfway, I see no need in getting someone to finish it.

      So you think a publisher should print a ‘disclaimer’ of sorts on a substandard piece of work if the author has passed on?

  2. Daniel says:

    Very enlightening. I’m a huge Dracula fan – probably my favorite book of all time – so I was surprised to read this. I’ll tread with caution when investigating his other books.

    • Nisha says:

      Yay, another Dracula fan! One of my all-time favs too! Although, mind you, I’ve heard that Jewel of the Seven Stars is not bad at all-far better than LOTWW anyways!
      In view of the information I found, I actually want to encourage people to read LOTWW. The crazy writing provides a different sort of entertainment if you know what I mean… 😉

  3. I definitely feel like the author and the work should be evaluated together, instead of just reading the book as its own independent object. Great question. I’m not sure why I believe that–perhaps because I write–or perhaps because I follow certain writers. One of my favorites wrote a book that really surprised and frustrated me (I’m not naming names!) and afterwards I found out that the plot was closely matched to what she had been going through in real life. So I excused that novel, put it on my shelf, and I don’t think I’ll read it again. Her next one was up to her usual amazing standards. I think she worked through her own emotions by telling an almost-true story in her novel, but it made me feel sort of ravaged at the end. Perhaps it is her best work because of how she was able to convey those raw emotions and pass them to her readers, but it wasn’t my favorite.

    • Nisha says:

      Wonderful hearing from you Laura, how are you?

      That’s a very interesting reading experience you had with one of your fav authors. You say the next novel she wrote(after the bad one) was brilliant. You don’t think the emotional work was necessary for her to clear her mind and move on? Because I agree with you, writing is a very personal activity, even if you are a professional.
      I love it when raw emotion comes through in a book. That’s what books are suppose to do, I feel. 🙂

      • I’m great! Haven’t been around as much because I had a baby, but I’ll try to start visiting more often because I’ve missed you, Nisha!

        I think you’re absolutely right that she had to get through the emotional journey through writing. Her next book is my favorite of all her books. In the one I didn’t like, the raw emotion was amazing, but a lot of things happened to the characters at the end that pushed it into the tragedy category–without any sort of redemption or hope. It went so far that direction that it felt like the pact with the reader was broken, or if not broken, bruised severely, because it wasn’t set up to be a tragedy from the beginning.

      • Nisha says:

        A baby!! OMG, that serves me right for not checking up on you sooner, hope you and baby are doing well! Will be paying your blog a visit soon, promise! 🙂

      • We’re all doing great! I never blogged about any of that–keeping it kind of quiet and private–but I have told some folks who have wondered where I’ve been.

  4. beckyday6 says:

    Ohhh I’m sorry to hear it hasn’t been a good reading year for you! Although actually come to think of it, it hasn’t been the best reading year for me either. Most of the books I’ve read have just been ‘meh’ with the exception of The Hunger Games – which only just made it into this year (January) but then again, I’ve only read 13 books this year which isn’t that many! Nothing is worse than getting excited about a book and then getting disappointed. Have there been any that you’ve enjoyed?

    It’s a very interesting link you’ve found here! In terms of Stoker it seems very likely that it would have influenced his work, others have also suggested it might have influence Emily Bronte’s crazy as well, along with her slowly losing the rest of her family. There’s a reading term; biographical reading/biographical criticism where people specifically look for the link between the author’s life and their book so that it influences their reading – from the way I understand it. Have you heard of it? (more about it on Wiki http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biographical_criticism not very reliable but I’d hope at least the basics are right) I love the idea! If I enjoyed non-fiction more I would probably do this more, at the moment like you I usually look up a bit about the author when I am reading one of their books. 🙂 I think background knowledge should affect the way we view a work to an extent, but let’s face it, if it’s bad, I’m still going to judge it. Whether I should or not….that’s another matter lol.

    I hope your reads improve from now on! Maybe it’s time to branch out to some different genre’s? Could be fun. 🙂

    Happy reading! 🙂

    • Nisha says:

      Biographical criticism? Thanks for that Becks, I never heard of that before, although it makes perfect sense.

      “I’ve only read 13 books this year which isn’t that many!” Are you serious darling? You making me look like a complete dimwit because I don’t think I’ve even read 10 books so far! 🙂 LOL. Wuthering Heights is the only good book that stands out for me this year. Hunger Games is definitely next, I swear (I know I’ve been promising that for ages!). I wish you would read LOTWW though, just for a laugh, so you could see how crazy it is! It provides a different sort of entertainment 😀

      I’m branching out into fantasy next, I think its about time – I have Terry Pratchett lined up (is that Fantasy? I get very confused with the genres), and I thought of reading some Trudi Canavan as well. But I’m also missing my ancient classics(as I call them) and historical detective fiction like Ellis Peters. So we’ll see what my future reading looks like… 😉

      • beckyday6 says:

        Haha I hadn’t until recently either. 🙂

        Awwwh, don’t despair, it just shows you’ve been doing much more important things, like writing. 😉 Plus, the unenjoyable swan song books will have slowed you down. I always felt like I read a lot of books, but looking at other blogs most have already read about 30 books by now! Very impressive, but I don’t know how they fit in the time. But I’d rather savour the story anyway.
        I do actually have LOTWW on PDF, so I will read it at some point, although I’ll go into it prepared and expecting a lot of crazy after your warning. 😛

        Ohhh cool, that sounds like a good plan! Terry Pratchett definitely counts as fantasy, at least some of his books do anyway, I know that. I have his first Discworld book but I haven’t read it yet. I will be very interested to see what you think of Canavan if you pick up any of her works, I think you will like her. 🙂

      • Nisha says:

        Haha! That’s what I keep telling myself too! And you’re definitely right, the swansongs have been holding me up. I’ve taken so long with Gaskell, that I could have read at least 3 other books in that time!
        To prepare you, go to Goodreads and check the comments/reviews for LOTWW – they’re hilarious! I actually thought I was being too critical while reading the book, and I felt stupid at one point because I thought, maybe I was missing something and my comprehension skills were lacking. But those reviews reassured me. 🙂

        My brother is a massive Pratchett fan and gave me I Shall Wear Midnight – not sure where in the Discworld sequence it fits in though… 🙂

      • beckyday6 says:

        Ohhh those sound great! I will check those out for sure before I read it, I love reading people’s reviews. Haha, I don’t think your comprehension skills could be lacking. Speaking of Goodreads, you should get an account. I would love to see which ratings you would give to which books, lol I’m nosy like that. 😛

        Ohhh right cool, it’s always helpful when somebody can give you a book to lend a helping hand. Hope you enjoy it. 🙂

      • Nisha says:

        Oh no I’ll never get a Goodreads account. I can be terribly critical and I would hate to hurt someone’s feelings.LOL.(Although I don’t seem to mind on my blog and Twitter, ha ha, irony.)

        Yeah, Bro’s been reading Pratchett for a long time but only recently gave me this one to read because he said it was about some witches. He always throws books about witches my way for some reason. Wonder why. 🙂

  5. Your great questions made me think of Stieg Larsson—the author of the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series. He passed away mid-manuscript, and I’ve heard that there’s a legal battle going on regarding whether his wife can/will finish it. Thanks for another tought-provoking post!

  6. Barb says:

    I haven’t had your experience but did read the sequel to Gone with the Wind. It seems Margaret Mitchell left behind her notes and story outline and the family sold it to some publishing house who hired a writer to do the story. It was okay, but it was no Gone with the Wind.

    • Nisha says:

      Didn’t realise there was a sequel to Gone with the Wind! As Nelle and I were discussing, its best if the story is almost done. Otherwise it would lack the author’s characteristic style…

  7. Martin Shone says:

    I do agree with LOTWW and I didn’t know it was his last book. And did you know that one of ACD’s last books, The Land of Mist, is also a bit of a dud or so they say; I haven’t read it yet 🙂

    • Nisha says:

      I heard of Land of Mist but never read it either. Was meaning to read the Lost World/Professor Challenger books but I was so afraid of being disappointed that I’m casually ignoring it, LOL. Glad you agree with LOTWW, it is a strange book indeed… 😛

  8. As a younger person, I would have said that books should not be published when the authors have a dreadful illness and it affects their writing. I said this when “Jackson’s Dilemma”, Iris Murdoch’s last novel was published when she started showing signs of Alzheimer’s. The reason for this being that when I studied Literature, psychoanalytical theory was fashionable which I adored and I couldn’t stand biographical interpretation. Also, I felt that it was letting the writer down and was ultimately bad for their reputations. As I have become older and written much more myself, I enjoy biographical interpretation and respect its importance. I also feel that it is important for us as readers to be able to experience every aspect of the writer which is possible. This post is extremely interesting and I thoroughly enjoyed it, even though you are a dreadful tease not mentioning the other two books.

    • Nisha says:

      Ha ha! Surprisingly you are the only commenter who’s asked me about the other two books! LOL. 🙂

      Very good point about it being bad for their reputation, but in Stoker’s case, Dracula is so famous, nobody seems to care much about a crazy book like LOTTW. If you’re already so well-known, it probably wouldn’t harm their reputation that much and people would take a sympathetic view if they’re passed on soon after.

      Yes I do feel, psychoanalysis can be dreadfully one-dimensional. I agree, Biographical interpretation can really enhance the reading experience in my opinion… 🙂

      • Oh dear – does that mean there is only me who is curious Clarissa? It could be a game – you could leave clues – better than that one on Facebook – I don’t quite get that -maybe I’m not doing it properly. Yes, I think it was a good idea to publish LOTTW because it gives insight into Bram later in life.

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