Friday, March 28, 2014

the tale of two sequels

hi there

some if you will recall how in a post on the, erm, bizarre world of bizarro books i kind of "went off on one" complaining and moaning about the world of "series" of books. you know, how one finds a novel that looks interesting, but turns out to be 'part seven of twelve' or 'book six' of a series of recurring characters.

series of books have always existed, but it just seems these days that's nearly all publishers are interested in. yes, a bit like the world of film i suppose. i understand it's with good, financial reason that they do this, but it gets a bit annoying that finding a good, interesting stand-alone novel these days is rather tricky.

in the light of that, then, it may be peculiar, but hopefully not hypocritical, that two of the best books i have read in the last year or so turned out to be sequels. hardly "series" books as they were sequels written decades after the originals, but still sort of the same rules apply in the minds of some i suppose.

the sequels in question are the novels Sycamore Row by John Grisham and Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, or if you like 'the legendary' Stephen King. both were, for the most part, outstanding novels. to answer a relatively safe and obvious question up front - in respect of the Grisham novel no, absolutely not, you would not have had to read the first book to follow or get into this one. in regards of the work of Mr King, it would i imagine certainly help, but the lengthy opening kind of covers all that you need to know of the first if for some reason you wanted to read this but flat refused to read The Shining. incidentally, seeing Stanley Kubrick's film alone would make this novel rather confusing for you, so don't take that approach. but more on that later.

with that qualification and quick review out of the way, i hereby declare that a *** SPOILER WARNING *** is in place for the entire rest of this post. i will do all i can to avoid plot specifics, but rather skip if you have any intention of reading any of the four books mentioned from here on out. 

blogger has "upped" the cover for Sycamore Row first, so let us start there, then. it is a sequel to Grisham's first novel, A Time To Kill, although it really did not need to be. using the same characters was a nice touch, but he could have just as easily constructed all new lawyers and scenarios to tell the tale.

and that tale is one well worth reading. it's a superb blend of race relations, greed, family, law and violence - probably an oil baron or a "wake up and find him in the shower" away from being soap opera stuff, yes, but Grisham handles it all really well. a particularly impressive part was the reversal of the science-fiction trick. whereas some set their works "in the future" whereas the content really reflects the present day, Grisham has taken this story back to 1989. it highlights that issues then are issues now, as in nothing much ever changes, i suppose.

yes, there's a pic of Mr Grisham for you all. enjoy, and credit to the photographer, as per the picture.

Sycamore Row is, thankfully, one of his better novels. it's up there, in my opinion and all that, with his best. what his best is would for me be things the The Chamber and Runaway Jury, if that's any sort of guide for you.

and there has been challenging times for fans of John Grisham. he wrote, let us not forget, some utter rubbish at times. who can forget The Last Juror, for instance - a book that promised much, but eventually delivered the adventures of a newspaper owner who went to several (many) church lunches. or that one set mostly in Italy, which was 90% Italian cuisine, 10% story.

the last two or three novels (certainly three including this) (might be the last four or five) have been a happy reminder of why his books sold and indeed sell in the millions. perhaps it's that, and presumably some sort of sense of satisfaction that he's hit the winning formula once more for engaging, interesting and not-all-about-eating novels, that inspired or pushed him to return to characters from his debut novel. whatever the reason doesn't matter, i suppose, especially as, as i indeed mentioned before, one does not have to read A Time To Kill to be able to tackle this one.

i don't really believe, though, that Sycamore Row started off life as a sequel to A Time To Kill. i would be pretty sure the ideas and what have you came to him, and for some reason to Mr Grisham it made "sense" to simply cast it all that way. if casting is the right way to describe setting up the characters and that in a novel. probably not, really, but that is the way i have said it now, so there.

it was not really a novel, or a set of characters for that matter, that ever really cried out for more story. part of me thinks it would have been better if it was all new characters, for the likelihood of a small town lawyer getting two "mega" cases as has now been the case with the protagonist does seem 'unlikely'.

i would think that if Mr Grisham were to deliberately plan a sequel to one of his novels, the likely candidate would be that one that people assume was his first, The Firm. that left a set of characters and events which would make a sequel rather good, to be honest. and to state the obvious, a certain ex of Nicole Kidman would probably relish the chance of returning to the character onscreen in an inevitable film adaptation.

onwards, then, to the world of Stephen King and Doctor Sleep. i kind of suspect that Mr King attracts the more passionate, easily angered fan in general and in particular on the net, so i should perhaps show caution here. except i will not.

although how else can i put this - Doctor Sleep is one of the finest novels i have ever read, let alone one of the best ones by Mr King. it is a brilliant, hard to put down tale of thrill and horror; if you like a big reminder of why the author is regarded of one of the greats, if not the greatest.

in similar ways to Sycamore Row, my suspicion is that this novel started off as its own thing, only for the author to clock that the story would "make sense" as a sequel to another book. in this instance, it was clearly and always more obvious as to which book a sequel was warranted. the original, of course, only showed two characters that had the ability and ways of 'shining'; it makes sense (being careful with plot points here) that others out there also had the same abilities or, if you like, powers. it was further unlikely, of course - and in particular in the world of Stephen King - that all would use the powers in a good, constructive way.

using power in a good, constructive way, Mr King. alas, you don't do it, do you? for over 30 years now Stephen has been at war with that film adaptation. Stanley Kubrick's interpretation of The Shining. Stephen did not and does not like it. he hates the changes to the ending. that the ending of the novel would have been impossible to film in 1980 does not matter to him.

Mr King brings up his resentment, anger and dislike over the film version in the opening of his author's notes. it is sad reading, really. Stevie-baby seems to think that if people dared to like the Kubrick film then they would automatically hate his original novel. this is not, and never has been, the case.

in Mr King's world it seems that there are two types of people - those that only like the film of The Shining and those that only like his novel. in my world and experience this has not been the case. all the people i have met who have read and seen the work consider both, in their own right, to be works of outright genius. which they very much are. i can only suspect that Mr King is - perhaps understandably - a tincy, wincy little bit jealous of the fact that people tend to associate The Shining more with the stunning Kubrick film rather than instantly with his original novel.

i, and i suspect many, would have thought that Mr King would have stopped his war on the Kubrick version around 1997 or 1998. that was when Stephen was given the freedom and the money to make his own version of The Shining. sure, it was more faithful to the novel, including the ending, but it was dull and boring. as in, for a film interpretation, Mr Kubrick had in fact got it right.

but, then again, if it is his bitterness, animosity and outright hatred of the Kubrick version that drove him to deliver a novel as superb as Doctor Sleep, it's not all that bad that he is that way.

i do not, however, buy his story that people have "forever" and "always" been asking him "what happened to Danny". i really would imagine and hope that anyone fortunate enough to meet Stephen King would have more interesting things to do that ask him what, in his imagination, happened to an imaginary character in an imaginary story. maybe not, but i still hope.

as mentioned and, if not clear enough, as you might guess, there is absolutely no way you could follow the story of Doctor Sleep without reading the novel The Shining. there's a decent stab at a refresher in the early stages of the book, but the references throughout the novel are, to my mind, too much to be able to "wing it". if your only experience of The Shining was the Kubrick film, go nowhere near this novel. you will be confused to hell and back, doubting you saw what you did.

i have not read all of the novels of Stephen King, far from it in fact. some of his more recent works are ones that i have started and not been able to finish because they haven't appealed. this one, as mentioned, was one i could barely put down on a night. compulsive reading Doctor Sleep most certainly was.

so there you go. sequels good, series bad when it comes to novels. i think. if the merits and success of these two novels sets either Mr Grisham or Mr King off on a sequel frenzy i suspect i might be a little disappointed, but then again, if they can do once more what they did with these novels, then bring it on.

hope this has been of some use to someone somewhere! yeah, i had reservations about reading either of them, but both turned out to be well and truly worth it.

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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