One hit literary wonders

Harper Lee isn’t the only author who wrote a worldwide bestseller yet decided not to try to repeat that success. Brian Moss and Lorraine Murphy look at other members of this elite club

One hit literary wonders

It is the book that frustrated wannabe writers for decades — how could Harper Lee produce the literary behemoth that was To Kill a Mockingbird, and then resort to reclusion without ever producing anything of note again?

Harper Lee

Over five decades on from the release of the novel, Lee has cemented her place in history as the world’s foremost one hit wonder author.

As fans from across the globe await the release of the prequel to Lee’s seminal work, we take a look at some other one hit wonder authors.

The Catcher in the Rye: JD Salinger

The book was already doing great business but was further propelled into the spotlight on December 8, 1980, when Mark Chapman — the man who assassinated John Lennon — was arrested with a copy of the book in his possession.

JD Salinger

Originally released in 1951, the book details the teenage struggles of protagonist Holden Caulfield and is said to be a semi-autobiographical account of the author’s own youth. Salinger detested the spotlight and gave his last interview in 1980.

The book has sold over 60m copies thus far, so perhaps there wasn’t the motivation to write a second. Salinger did produce a short story collection, Nine Stories (1953); a volume containing a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961); and a volume containing two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963).

His last published work, a novella entitled Hapworth 16, 1924, appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965, but The Catcher in the Rye remained his only novel.

Wuthering Heights: Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte

Although now considered a literary success, this wasn’t always the case. Upon its release in 1847, the novel was criticised as being depressing and morose — those who studied it for the Leaving or Junior Cert might well agree.

Part of literature’s first family including sisters Ann and Charlotte, Emily also wrote poetry but Wuthering Heights would be her only published novel, lucky for Kate Bush fans that she at least got around to producing one.

Gone with the Wind: Margaret Mitchell

Immortalised in film history with Clarke Gable’s iconic line ‘Frankly my dear I don’t give a damn’, Gone With The Wind was Mitchells portrayal of the American Civil War and the turmoil it inflicted on the fledgling US.

Released in 1937, the book was an immediate hit and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and was adopted into the film two years later, earning Gable his third Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Rhett Butler.

Mitchell reportedly didn’t want to write another due to the unwanted attention the book brought her.

A timeless classic which stills shifts over 70,000 copies a year .

The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath

Another staple of the Leaving Cert and junior cycles over the years, The Bell Jar was Plath’s only novel published in 1963 originally published under the pseudonym ‘Victoria Lucas’.

A celebrated poet in her time, the novel on reflection is considered to be a semi-autobiographical work of a young woman’s descent into madness.

Sylvia Plath

Sadly the protagonist’s journey was mirrored by Plath’s own mental health issues and battles with depression (she committed suicide the same year as The Bell Jar’s publication).

The Picture of Dorian Grey: Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde

A world renowned poet and dramatist, arguably Oscar Wilde’s most controversial work was his only published novel. First published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine in the late 19th Century, editors feared the story was indecent, and deleted 500 words before publication, unknowns to Wilde.

Despite such censorship, The Picture of Dorian Grey gravely offended Victorian book reviewers, with many even calling for the prosecution of Wilde, for violating the laws guarding public morality.

The narrative driven by immorality, obsession, murder and hedonism outraged Victorian society, with critics at the time describing the book as “contaminating”, “effeminate” and “unclean”. Wilde never wrote another novel.

Dr Zhivago: Boris Pasternak

Due to its controversial stance on socialism in Soviet Russia, Doctor Zhivago was refused publication in the USSR. As a result, the manuscript was smuggled to Milan, where it was published in 1957.

Boris Pasternak

Demand for the novel was great — it was translated into 18 languages well in advance of publication. The following year, Pasternak was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, humiliating the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Threatened with arrest and exile, Pasternak was forced to turn down the honour by Soviet authorities.

However, it was not fear of imprisonment which meant Pasternak never published another novel, but the fact that he died a short time later of lung cancer.

Brian Moss and Lorraine Murphy present The Breakfast BLT weekdays from 6-9am on Tipp FM.

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