The first book we choose to read by some authors may end up having a significant impact on whether we decide to continue to explore their work or not. When someone asks us to recommend a first book to read by one of our favourite writers, we surely want to mention one that will make that person want to continue to read their books. Which should we recommend? The first one we read? Our favourite? Or some other? I tried to answer these questions regarding my current favourite authors: Daphne du Maurier, Jane Austen, José Saramago, Eça de Queirós, Jessie Burton and Margaret Atwood.
Daphne du Maurier: Jamaica Inn
When we fall head over heels in love with the first book we read by an author, it’s difficult not to keep comparing our subsequent reads by them to it. That’s what happened to me with Daphne du Maurier and the magnificent Rebecca. For that reason, if you still haven’t started exploring Du Maurier’s work, I recommend starting with Jamaica Inn instead. It’s a great novel that will make you want to continue reading her books, while still having her best book (in my opinion) to look forward to.
Jamaica Inn is atmospheric and mysterious. After the death of her mother, the main character, Mary Yellan, went to live with her aunt Patience, who was married to Joss Merlyn. He was the new landlord of Jamaica Inn. Mary soon realised that her uncle was involved in some kind of criminal activity. Throughout the book, there are various instances which shine thanks to a tangible sense of menace. The believable characters and realistic dialogues make the book captivating.
Jane Austen: Pride and Prejudice
Although I’ve just recommended not to start reading Daphne du Maurier’s work by my favourite book by her, I’m about to do just that regarding Jane Austen. Why? There’s no other of her novels that I think would have made me so eager to read her other books had I read it first. Pride and Prejudice has an engaging plot and is effortlessly funny. Stimulating topics are explored with lightness.
Mrs Bennet desperately wants to marry her five daughters. So, she is pleased to learn that a single young man, Mr Bingley, who has a large fortune, is to be their neighbour. He soon becomes interested in Jane, her eldest daughter. It is Elizabeth who is the heroine of the novel, though. She is intelligent, playful and witty. Sometimes she is too fast at making judgments about people without knowing all the details about a situation, though. That is exactly what happens with Mr Darcy.
José Saramago: As Intermitências da Morte (Death at Intervals)
José Saramago had a special way to write most of his books. They mimic orality and resemble stream of consciousness. There are no quotation marks. The dialogues and thoughts of the characters are differentiated from the rest of the text via a comma followed by a capital letter. As soon as readers become familiar with this method, his work flows with ease, despite the paragraphs being exceedingly long.
The most sensible thing to do by those who want to start exploring his work is to pick up one of his shortest novels. As Intermitências da Morte, Death at Intervals in the English translation, is set in an unnamed country where people have stopped dying. After many unhelpful outcomes, “Death” goes back to work, taking a different approach to her role. The many funny moments will make the reading experience even more engrossing.
Eça de Queirós: O Crime do Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro)
I was introduced to the Portuguese author Eça de Queirós at the age of 17 at school when we studied Os Maias (The Maias in the translation into English). It is a great novel, full of irony and social considerations. It may not be the best of his books to read first, though. Despite it being my favourite, I recognise that it features many scenes whose single purpose is to portray the society of the 19th century and that are not important for the development of the plot.
O Crime do Padre Amaro, The Crime of Father Amaro in the translation into English, is a much shorter novel that is more to the point, although it’s also full of satire and social considerations, mainly criticisms of the corruption in the Catholic Church. Amaro is a young priest in Leiria, but he lacks a true religious vocation. He only became a priest because of his aristocratic patrons. When he meets Amélia, keeping his vow of celibacy becomes even harder.
Jessie Burton: The Muse
Having only read three novels by Jessie Burton and having equally loved two of them, it’s not easy to recommend a book to pick up first by her. But, since The Miniaturist has now a sequel, which I haven’t read yet, I’ll go with The Muse. It is a gripping and atmospheric historical fiction novel that delves into racism and the unequal treatment of women. A mysterious painting connects two time periods. In 1936, Olive Schloss arrives at a house in rural Spain and wonders how to tell her parents that she has been accepted to do a Fine Arts degree. Decades later, in 1967, Odelle Bastien is offered a job as a typist at the Skelton Gallery in London.
Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
Margaret Atwood is an author whom I perceive as a safe choice. I’ve read seven books by her so far and I would wholeheartedly recommend all of them except for The Testaments, which I only think it’s passable. Interestingly, I rated none of her books with five stars. They may not be perfection in my eyes, but they are still great reads. Her most famous one and one of my favourites, The Handmaid’s Tale, is a good place to start exploring her work. At least, I made that choice and don’t regret it.
It is a dystopian novel and a work of speculative fiction that is set in the Republic of Gilead, an authoritarian and puritanical state established in the USA, where there is an infertility problem. To try to “solve” it, married men who are part of the elite use Handmaids, fertile women, to breed. One of the handmaids, Offred, is the narrator of the novel. Not only does she report on what is happening in the present, but she also recalls events before the repressive state is established. The Handmaid’s Tale is a powerful book that features many well-drawn characters.
Have you read books by any of these authors? Who are your favourites authors and which books do you recommend to those who want to start exploring their work? Tell me in the comments!