One and Done

Staff PicksWoodridge Library

One and Done

Famous authors and the lone novels they published in their lifetimes

This list collects a handful of novels that are the only books published by authors in their lifetimes. More specifically, it focuses on bigger name authors, many of whom also wrote short stories, essays and/or poetry, but whom I was surprised to find only published one novel. 

Looking at these titles and considering the renown of these authors is fascinating in itself -- and also prompts consideration of what other living authors may have already written their only novels, as, for instance, it’s been 11 years since Kathryn Stockett wrote The Help.

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Dorian is a beautiful human. More beautiful than most people. Dorian appears to be approximately 20 years old, although he is almost twice that age. One wonders how he maintains his youth and beauty when he lives such a hedonistic life. He lives so hard that one would think he would appear older than his age, rather than younger. What's his secret?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Published the year before the author’s death, this novel tells the story of protagonist Heathcliff, his intense and complex relationship with his adoptive family the Earnshaws and the neighboring family the Lintons, and his love for Catherine Earnshaw who refuses to marry him. He leaves, only to return many years later to exact his revenge on them all.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
The narrator, who remains unnamed, is an African American man, born and raised in the American south. As an adult, he moves to New York, where he hopes to escape the racism of the south. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t. In New York, he begins to understand the truth about the invisibility and lack of identity racism has assigned him. (Note: Ralph Ellison did have the novel Juneteenth published posthumously, but I included him since he only published one during his lifetime.)

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
This is the story of a woman who appears to have it all. Esther is beautiful, talented and successful, but she is slowly losing her grip on reality. Via suicide attempts and stays in mental institutions, we are slowly pulled into her breakdown as she struggles with all she has, what is expected of her as a woman in the 1950s, and what she wants.

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
Ignatius J. Reilly is an intellectual -- a modern day Don Quixote, at least he is in his mind. In reality, he is an educated slob in his 30s who can’t hold down a job and lives at home with his mother. He loathes most people around him and modern pop culture. This is his story as he looks for love, a job and someone who hasn’t heard the story of his only trip out of New Orleans.