The last couple of weeks I've been reading 'The Evil Seed' by Joanne Harris (of 'Chocolat' fame). Recently I read her 'Blackberry Wine' and loved it, and was hunting around in our local W H Smith for another of her books to try. I saw 'Chocolat' and very nearly bought that, but then this title leapt off the shelf at me. The cover looked suitably creepy and the blurb sounded really intriguing, full of the suggestion of ghosts and general other-worldliness. I put 'Chocolat' down and bought this instead.
The first thing I found on opening the book was an author's note. Books quite often have explanatory notes from the writer, of course, but they tend to be at the end, once a reader knows what happened and wants some further information. This was at the start, and seemed basically to be trying to disassociate Ms Harris from the book. It was the first one she'd ever written, some twenty years ago. It had been out of print for some time, and only republished at the request of her readers. It had been through some further edits but was mostly still untouched.
It all sounded a little... strange. And when I started reading I soon saw why, because the style was surprisingly different from the seamless, beautiful prose of 'Blackberry Wine'. It was disjointed, with odd unannounced changes in point of view and chapters written in either first or third person depending on which character they represented. On top of that, characters seemed to do the oddest things, like chasing baddies half way across a county in the middle of the night without so much as a torch, and the only explanation was that this was all a bit spooky and supernatural.
The pages turned fast enough because I wanted to know what happened, but I can't really say I enjoyed the experience. The plot became steadily more and more melodramatic and the characters were just plain irritating. By the time I finished I was reading with gritted teeth, and the ending was so dark as to render the whole book rather pointless. Although there were flashes of Ms Harris's later brilliance, I won't be reading this again, whereas 'Blackberry Wine' has gone on my shelf of treasures to be savoured at a later date.
It raises interesting questions about whether writers should give in to their readers' demands. Yes, it sells more books; but if a reader only read this they might go away with a very unbalanced view of the author's capabilities. I'm not sure I'd want some of my earliest writing efforts to ever see the light of day!