Creativity or cashing in?

Do you get into book series?

If so, what do you like about a series of books as opposed to a stand alone novel?

Do you enjoy each subsequent book as much, more, less than the first in the series?

I’ve been reading the Flavia de Luce novels by Alan Bradley. They’re a “cult favourite”. I know because the cover of number 5 tells me. 

I read the first three books ages ago. Loved the sweet, quirky, unique tale with the slightly fairy tale gentle post-war atmosphere. It’s like a perennial Miss Marple sunny quiet village day, looked back upon with nostalgia by someone who never lived in, never experienced village life except through novels with the cliched eccentric ruling family. 

When I was sick last week, I borrowed two more of the series. A gentle read that didn’t demand much of my brain. Medicine for my soul. 

Book 4, I am Half Sick of Shadows, was fine. Typical of a series. You’re comfortable with the characters; no surprises in their behaviour. The language and style is similarly as expected. A sweet take with quirky details on chemicals and literature and music and such. 

Book 5, Speaking from among the Bones, continues to have engaging tidbits on music and medicine; literature, liturgical law and Latin; architecture and aerophones. (Have your iPhone to the ready to play the music as the characters do or to search some new morsel of knowledge.)
However, the tale is disjointed  and in places, downright ridiculous and unbelievable. A vicar sending an 11 year old off out of the church in the middle of the night alone to walk home in the dark when there’s been a murder? A village resident not knowing the daughter of the local landed gentry? The said daughter who is always out and about on her bicycle and has just been involved in four murders.

Ah, but here’s the rub. I’m going to get the next volume. Bradley’s sucked me in. An overarching mystery, the case of the missing mother, may be about the be solved. 

By the way, if you were lost for 10 years and returned to find your house on the brink of collapsing, bankruptcy and foreclosure; your husband ignoring all, not working but looking at his stamps in a slump. For ten bloody years! Mourning your loss. Keeping your room as a shrine while all around collapses in rot and dust, while your daughters live almost hermit-like isolation from society. For ten frigging years!!!!

Would you be bloody angry? I would, if you couldn’t guess by my choice of words. I wouldn’t be happy to see such a chump, such a lump, such a lazy idiot. I wouldn’t see it as a romantic gesture, a sign of deep and abiding love. I’d scream, if you loved me, think of our girls, think of the living. Why’d you keep my bedroom pristine, my car polished and unused in the garage, while the rest decomposes? I’d wonder how I’d ever loved such a dud. 

This mother, if she returns, is meant to be the most beautiful, adventurous, intelligent, caring, perfect example of humankind. Think she’d settle for a non-communicative, head-in-the-sand, torpid thing? She’ll be back in her silver Rolls and off with a flick of her scarf. 

So is it creativity? Or cashing in? Do we forgive lapses in narrative and editing? I abandoned the money making churner of tales that is Alexander McCall Smith, his gems lost among his formulaic word processing. 

The attraction of a series – comforting, continuing the enjoyment – is ruined for me when the standard is not maintained, damn it. More is not always better. Do we have to know what happens next to every character? Maybe I’m over thinking and I should treat the series of the likes of Bradley and McCall Smith as fast food or shows I watch on TV to relax – watch and forget, read and forget. 

It’s just hard when the first books are so original and good. 


7 thoughts on “Creativity or cashing in?

  1. You’ve made me realise I’m not really a series reader. I do enjoy books written by the same author but can’t recall many where I’ve gone on a binge (I really only binge on Netflix). One I have recently enjoyed was Close Your Eyes – another in Michael Robotham’s crime series (psychologist Joe O’Loughlin has Parkinson’s).
    I think I binge on particular authors rather than series – Kate Atkinson, Liane Moriarty, Anita Shreve.

  2. I don’t really binge (although I might read two straight after each other, or three or four over the course of a year with others in between. Depends if I want to find out what happened next.) – I remember once deciding to re-read a series I’d loved before the next trilogy came out and discovered I *loathed* it. One book at a time, the nasty undercurrents weren’t as obvious… reading the nine books one after the other? BLAM. Nasty. Species-ist (it was fantasy, so the racism was disguised as overt hatred for a particular group). I didn’t read any of the others.

    Sometimes I crack the shits with characters – like, the Sue Grafton books and the Sara Paretsky ones. I got really annoyed with both Kinsey Millhone and VI Warshawski when they started behaving like complete dicks, so I stopped reading them (that’ll show ’em!). And I’ll lose interest in them if I don’t like the way they treat other people (looking at you, Kathy Reichs and Tempe Brennan. AND Patricia Cornwell)

  3. I am not a big series reader, I suppose because most series are mysteries or fantasy, and I prefer realistic fiction. I have read all the Sue Grafton. I actually disliked A is for Alibi but for whatever reason, I read the B volume and it got better from there. I read a lot of the Faith Fairchild mysteries by Katherine Hall Page, but she took a detour and wrote some from the point of view of another character, and I wasn’t interested. Last year we read a Commissario Brunetti mystery for book club, so I went back and read the first one. I liked them, but they weren’t compelling enough to make me want to read them all (or read them in order). Over all, I like to read all the (completely unrelated) books by an author rather than read a series.

    • I’ve not read any of these books. But then I’m not a big murder or mystery reader. I thought I’d want to read all the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency but it became to same-same.

      Mercester commented the same thing, ie reading all the unrelated novels by favourite authors. I did that when I went on Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh binges and a couple of Australian authors. Now I tend to jump around quite a bit.

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