Tuesday, September 22, 2015

No way, José

By R.J. Harlick

After the excitement and controversy of Go Set A Watchman: what would be your dream rediscovered-lost-work? And your nightmare?

I’ve been wracking my brains to come up with an answer. I’ve been sifting through the hundreds of books, if not thousands I have read since I started reading, as if I could remember them all. Since I’m one of those readers who generally forgets the contents of a book the minute I close the cover, do you think I’d be able to remember any of the books. I tell you though, it sure helps the book budget. I can re-read old books and get as much enjoyment out of them second and third time around, because it’s like reading a new book.

But are there any authors, lamentably now dead, since most likely if they had a rediscovered-lost-work, it’s not them doing the rediscovering, authors whose long buried work I would want to read? Mind you, Harper Lee is still very much alive and I suppose most of us have manuscripts collecting dust on a shelf or occupying hard drive space and we’re still kicking. But let’s face it, there is a reason why these forgotten or lost manuscripts have never seen the light of day as a published book, they aren’t any good. Either they were rejected by publishers or the writer decided for themselves that the book wasn’t worthy. Often they are early works and the author’s writing style has matured significantly to the better. 

So my take is let’s leave them buried. Chances are the work wasn’t completely finished, so considerable editing is required often with little or no input from the author, especially if they’re dead. As a result the true voice of the author will be diluted, even lost. It’s unlikely this long forgotten work would live up to the quality that readers of the published books have come to expect and enjoy.

Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast comes to mind. It was published three years after his death, based on a diary he kept in Paris, forty years earlier.  Although he had begun to shape it into a book, it was his last wife who did the editing and forty years later his son in a new edition. Like Harper Lee’s long forgotten manuscript, A Moveable Feast was published to much controversy. But, hey, it sells books and that is what it’s all about. 

I mustn’t forget the number of books, often crime related, that have been written in the style of a dead author, using the characters of a best selling series. The most recent is The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which is being sold as a Stieg Larsen sequel, even though not a single word is his, not even the story line, just the characters. And since characters with all their quirks are brought to life by an author’s imagination, it’s difficult to believe that they would continue to be the same characters in a book by another author.

No doubt you’ve gathered by now that I have no interest in a rediscovered work for any of my favourite authors. Nor do I have any interest in forgotten works by other authors or the continuation of a favourite mystery series by another author. I worry that these books which are not wholly their own would cloud the good memories I have of their earlier books.

And now for some BSP. I’m into the countdown. Only six more weeks before A Cold White Fear is released. It’s now available for pre-order at your favourite online booksellers.


Paul D. Marks said...

Hmm, it's been a long time since I've read A Moveable Feast, RJ, but I remember really enjoying it. Might have to give it another look and see how it's aged. And good luck with your new book!

RJ Harlick said...

Thanks, Paul.