Wednesday, 23 January 2008

Thrones, Dominations...

When I posted recently about Dorothy L. Sayers, fellow blogger Jilly asked if I’d read Thrones, Dominations. This is the book that Sayers started and abandoned. The writing wasn’t interrupted by her death; she simply gave up on writing detective fiction. Eventually, the estate selected a writer of distinction, Jill Paton Walsh (who has tried her hand at detective stories in the past) to complete the book. It can have been no easy task, but I was impressed with the result; she did the job as well as it could have been done, and that the book, read as a whole, was better than, say, Whose Body? or Five Red Herrings. Encouraged by this success, Paton Walsh produced A Presumption of Death, utilising some of Sayers’ material. I felt this was not quite as gripping as the earlier book, but still a likeable read.

Finishing a book written by someone else is a fascinating challenge. Almost everybody seems to have had a go at The Murder of Edwin Drood - Dick Stewart has even written a book, End Game, devoted to listing all those who have done so. Unfinished novels by the likes of Raymond Chandler and Cornell Woolrich are amongst those that have been completed by other hands.

On a slightly less exalted level, I had the privilege of completing the late Bill Knox’s last Thane and Moss story, The Lazarus Widow. I’ve written about this elsewhere, so I won’t go on about it at length right now – but it was certainly one of the most interesting experiences of my writing career. The fact that it worked out happily in the end (and, most important, for Bill’s family, who have become friends) was intensely rewarding. I’m not surprised that Jill Paton Walsh found the invitation to complete Thrones, Dominations impossible to resist.

9 comments:

brooksideelaine said...

Having discovered DL Sayers relatively recently and then read the entire output in six weeks, I was left casting about for more discoveries and then was told about these two Jill PW books. I read them both and enjoyed them very much. I normally don't like books being finished off by others but would make an exception in this case if she wanted to write some more.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

Actually, the book is _The Mystery of Edwin Drood_, and it was Dickens's attempt to "out-Collins Collins"---his friend and fellow author Wilkie Collins.

Petrona said...

My eldest daughter, who is studying A level English, was recently advised to read the recently published sequel to Rebecca, as she had enjoyed reading this Daphne du Maurier book. (Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman).
She hated the sequel, feeling that the character of the second Mrs de Winter did not match with that of the first book.
I haven't read this sequel, but I have just finished a book by Susan Hill, and I see from the bio that she wrote a sequel to Rebecca some years ago, called Mrs de Winter. Oddly, I am sure I must have read this when it came out, as I do recall reading a sequel to the book. However, I cannot remember a thing about it. I do, however, remember the original book vividly. It is one of those books that stays with you over the years.

A Lake District connection: what stimulated Cathy's (my daughter's) interest in reading Rebecca was that on our holiday in Keswick last summer, the theatre there was putting on Rebecca, so we went to see it.

Martin Edwards said...

Elaine: it's a long time since I read DLS, but I'm in the mood to re-read some of the good ones in the near future. The tv Have His Carcase has re-ignited my interest.

Elizabeth: thanks, you're dead right - just testing! And it's worth noting the recent revival of Rupert Holmes' musical based on Drood.

Maxine: sequels are very tricky, I think (though no doubt lucrative.) Finishing someone else's book is a different experience. I'm sure there's a good crime novel to be written about it....
I too have an A level student in the house; he seems much more knowledgable than I was at the same age.

Juliet said...

I have always steered very well clear of sequels, ever since I was forced to read (for work purposes) a ghastly sequel to Wuthering Heights which I found difficult to put out of my mind for many years, which I resented! I did read Susan Hill's sequel to Rebecca, though. I resisted for ages but I admire SH's writing and curiosity got the better of me. I thought it very well and sensitively done, actually, with a very keen appreciation of the nuances of the original.

On the whole, however, I really would *very* much rather people kept their 'what happened next' ideas to themselves (or their book group at most) and realise that the original writer will deliberately have written precisely what they needed to about *their* characters and left them exactly where they wished them to remain in the reader's mind.

Finishing off another's work raises different issues, but curiously does seem far more acceptable in some arts than in other. Books are considered fair game, while music raises more hackles (see eg the furore over the completion of Elgar's third symphony http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/elgar/56312.stm ), and as for painting - well imagine what would happen if someone were to approach eg one of the National Gallery's unfinished Gainsboroughs with a loaded brush and palette - outrage, horror, criminal charges, questions in the House!

Maybe fiction should be treated with the same kind of reverence?? Just an idea . . .

(And yes, definitely fodder for a good twisty crime novel!)

blimeyhecks said...

I really enjoyed Sally Beauman's sequel, I thought it was a really well written and enjoyable book.

Martin Edwards said...

Juliet, this is admittedly a sweeping generalisation to which there are no doubt many exceptions, but I'd suggest that there's a difference between an unfinished novel and an unfinished musical work. The latter may, despite being incomplete, still have real merit. Other than Edwin Drood, I can't think of any incomplete novel of which the same could be said. Which leads me to the tentative thought that maybe there's a stronger case for finishing a novel than a piece of music? I'm not sure, but it's an interesting debating point.

Juliet said...

Martin - you are absolutely right, of course, and it's all to do with narrative. One could argue quite forcefully that a piece of music (especially something likea symphony) 'needs' resolution, but, as with an unfinished poem or sculpture, it can be perfectly enjoyable in sketch or partially finished form.

It's only in novels that we are so strongly driven by the need to know 'what happens next', and above all, 'what happens in the end' (and of course, for sequel-devotees, 'what happens next, after the end').

I am genuinely troubled by the urge to 'sequelise' well-loved novels, though. It seems an increasingly rampant tendency, and while I can see that it could be artistically challenging (in a good way) for a writer, I agree that the 'lucrative' aspect is usually well to the fore when such projects are embarked upon (cf Alexandra Ripley's sequel to Gone with the Wind - completely panned by the critics but still sold 6 million copies!).

Anyway, sorry, this is rather a long way from your original post. I will go off and muse more about it all on my own blog instead of taking up air-time on yours!

Martin Edwards said...

As ever,Juliet, your musings are of great interest, and I'm sure not only to me. One sequel I've never read is 'The Wild Sargasso Sea', but I know a number of people think it's wonderful. And I know of at least one more unfinished crime novel that deserves to be completed. But it's not a job for me!