After I finished reading Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, I realized I had, for the first time in my life, read the entire novels of a particular author. It was a weird feeling–I’d never done that before.
Obviously, I’m leaving out the short stories of Eugenides, which, to my knowledge, haven’t been released in a collection yet. But a novel, naturally, is different– while a short story can be just as devastating and freakish (I just read “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”, can you tell?), I feel like a novel is more of a complete work. A short story can give us a window into a world–a novel can show us all the facets of that world.
So, what does reading an author’s entire oeuvre of novels mean to a reader?
I think, like any art form, it allows you to see how the author has grown. Eugenides’ writing has definitely grown between The Virgin Suicides and Middlesex. The Virgin Suicides pales in comparison to Middlesex. It’s actually interesting to see what improves between the books–Eugenides’ handle on a character, his descriptions, and such. It also shows how an author works up to a certain level of comfort. The Virgin Suicides focuses on a reflection on the youth of a group of men who grew up during the 1970s–like Eugenides. While Middlesex doesn’t waste that experience, it’s much bigger in scale, covering a family from the fateful union that produced the gene that produced Cal’s hermaphroditism.
While I haven’t read all of Neil Gaiman’s novels, I feel the same thing is mostly true. Neverwhere focuses on London, somewhere Gaiman is no doubt familiar with. American Gods, however, covers much bigger ground- not only America, but the occasional far-flung side story. I think if I’d read everything by Gaiman, I could produce a lot more patterns, but I haven’t. Watching an author’s writing grow is immensely satisfying to me, as a reader. I tell people to read Neverwhere first so they’ll give it a fighting chance against the magnificence of American Gods.
I’m still chugging away at King Hereafter. That’s my reading life right now, but I’m so, so close to the end. The Fellowship of the Ring is begging me to read it, and I will answer its siren call very soon.
What authors have you read everything by, and how has their work evolved?