Various literary pundits and practitioners have been offering their thoughts on first novels in the latest Bookforum.
"That first novel will be like a rock in Virginia Woolf's pocket," says William H Gass. "Unless it is very bad, the author will never write anything as good again—it will be said. Critics who complained of the first novel will wish the writer would write another like it in order to complain (by comparison) of the sixth." But I don't get his next point: "Though Ulysses is a first novel, it is not a first novel."
Across the page, Craig Seligman also suggests that the true value of a first novel is only revealed in the context of history: "But we don't read in a vacuum, and, however exacting our critical faculties, we don't read the first novels of the writers we care about for their merits alone. There's also the pleasure—one part malice, nine parts love—of seeing our gorgeous friends in their gawky adolescence."
The belief that a substantial number of writers ever grow out of their adolescence is touching, if misguided.