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Mad Dog & Glory

Which writers have 'jumped the shark'?

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The expression comes from a website which lists TV shows that were good, and then turned bad, and seeks to pinpoint the exact moment where it all went wrong.

 

The same is true for writers. How often have you read the first few novels by a writer that were so good, you were almost counting the days until the next one came out? Then it when it did, it turned out to be rubbish.

 

I would like to nominate two writers whose novels I loved (in the first case) and admired (in the second case) that when they brought out a novel I didn't like, it almost felt like a betrayal.

 

They are John Irving and Martin Amis.

 

John Irving never managed to repeat the glories of The World According To Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire, and I liked A Prayer For Owen Meany and even The Cider House Rules (terrible sentimental film), but for me he jumped the shark with A Son Of The Circus, which I couldn't even finish. I've read all his novels since, but with increasing disenchantment, and will undoubtedly read the next one.

 

Martin Amis was so brilliant in his first few novels that every sentence left you feeling an awkward mix of awe and jealousy, and then he brought out London Fields. Again, I couldn't finish it. He had seemed not only to lose touch with the real world, but with his invented world, and the characters in it. He seemed to have turned into a pale parody of himself.

 

Here are a few theories about why good writers go bad:

 

1) Because they only had a limited number of things to say, and once they've said them, they keep saying them over and over again.

 

2) Because once they succeed, the hunger and the fire in the belly are gone.

 

3) Because they lose touch with what made them writers in the first place. They have celebrity friends, go to literary parties, award ceremonies, and move further and further away from the characters who people their books/scripts. Basically, they no longer know those kind of people.

 

4) Because they believe they no longer have anything to learn. If you reach this stage, your work can only suffer - and you are destined to repeat yourself. So any writer who stops reading, and who isn't interested in what else is out there, can only stand still, and if you stand still for too long you inevitably go backwards.

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Interesting concept.

 

How about Fay Weldon? Novels like Praxis, Puffball and Life And Loves Of A She-Devil were devastatingly original, such breaths of fresh air, written in her unique style, with unique structures (often very short paragraphs). I wonder though if she is a novelist who only ever had a limited number of things to say, and then kept on saying them, but in slightly less interesting ways each time.

 

I'd say she truly 'jumped the shark' when she wrote The Bulgari Incident, after she was paid to do so by the jewellers.

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Martin Amis was so brilliant in his first few novels that every sentence left you feeling an awkward mix of awe and jealousy, and then he brought out London Fields. Again, I couldn't finish it. He had seemed not only to lose touch with the real world, but with his invented world, and the characters in it. He seemed to have turned into a pale parody of himself.

 

Aah I totally agree about this! I think I posted something similar in another thread just about M.Amis. I hated London Fields, and also couldn't finish it. And haven't read any more of his books, so I know what you mean about feeling a bit 'betrayed'.

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James Herbert. 'Nuff said.

 

Yep, his shark jumping occured page 116 of "Rats 47 - The Return of the Really Really Big Nasty Furry Dog Sized Mammals" :)

 

A major cause of Shark Jumping occurs when "Hollywood-comes-a-calling", or authors write a book with a view to seeing their novel on the silver screen. John Grisham I think is an example of this that comes to mind.

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Mentioned on another thread, but it's remarkable (given his output, and the limits imposed by writing about a world that is carried by 4 elephants on the back of a giant turtle) that Terry Pratchett has avoided the shark. Maybe the turtles have seen it off...

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John Grisham I think is an example of this that comes to mind.

 

Yeah, I'm not sure about John Grisham. I still love his books, including the more recent ones. Very readable and fantastically intruiging, unpredictable plots. But my feeling is that the earlier ones had more emotion - were more based around uncomfortable issues that gave an extra depth to them. I'm bad at titles, but the one with the little black girl who was raped - and her father killed the white men who did it. And the one with the KKK bomber on death row. They really got under my skin and haunted me in a way that his more recent ones just don't.

 

The plots are still great, but the characters mainly seem motivated by money, either acquiring it by various means, fair or foul, or trying to prevent someone else getting hold of it. The passion for justice and the compassion for his characters from the earlier ones just doesn't seem to be there anymore.

 

The Painted House, though - that was an interesting one...

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Here are a few theories about why good writers go bad:

 

 

 

MD&G,

 

I would add to your list:

 

e) editors lose their sense of power to properly edit the work, otherwise risking prima-donna-fittery, and so no one can tell them if something stinks any more.

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MD&G,

 

I would add to your list:

 

e) editors lose their sense of power to properly edit the work, otherwise risking prima-donna-fittery, and so no one can tell them if something stinks any more.

Spot on Lulu

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Here are a few theories about why good writers go bad:

I would add:

 

6) What with our population living longer, writers are going to be included in those that survive past their prime. They aren't dying suddenly, leaving us with only an excellent body of work. Maybe some of those 'great writers' are only great because they popped off before they could turn in a formulaic blockbuster and disappoint.

 

7) Some writers truly have only one good book in them but some so and so keeps nudging them and saying awwww gowan!

 

8) Two book deals....

 

and then there's gaining power and surfing the shark

Barbara Cartland...well there's a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a tutu...pink of course.

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