Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Unfinished

Unfinished, presented by Alastair Sooke, was shown by the BBC to coincide with its airing of The Mystery of Edwin Drood. Sooke, who is an art critic for The Daily Telegraph, started with Droodism, and interviewed the screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes, before moving on to consider other unfinished works, continuations of characters or story-lines begun by others, and other variations on the theme of completion (or its absence.)

His range was broad, taking in Sanditon by Jane Austen, a portrait of George Washington, poems by Siegfried Sassoon, Franz Kafka, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, and The Sopranos. There might be a risk that such diversity would lead to superficiality, but Sooke managed to surmount the hurdle with ease, presenting in an intelligent yet accessible and engaging style that made the programme quite fascinating.

I found that my thoughts were provoked on several levels. This is a subject that has intrigued me ever since I finished Bill Knox’s The Lazarus Widow, and I was also shown an incomplete manuscript by another deceased writer some time ago, which I felt was too fragmentary to complete in a meaningful way. Jill Paton Walsh has, impressively, finished one Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and written two others, and her work in this field is also fascinating, though it did not earn a mention in the programme. Has anyone ever written a novel about an unfinished book? I am sure it must have been done plenty of times, but off-hand I can’t call any examples to mind.

One final point about Alastair Sooke. I’d never heard of him before this programme, but I did take to him, and towards the end of the show, I suddenly realised why. Odd as it may seem, he reminded me, just a bit, of my personal vision of Daniel Kind.

10 comments:

Margot Kinberg said...

Martin - Oh, isn't it interesting when a character or actor does that - reminds you a bit of your vision of your own character? Thanks for sharing your view of Daniel Kind.

Martin Edwards said...

Certainly is, Margot! It's never happened to me quite like that before, what about you?

Deb said...

Two unfinished novels I would love to have finished are Thomas Mann's THE CONFESSIONS OF FELIX KRULL and F. Scott Fitzgerald's THE LAST TYCOON. I guess what I'm saying is, I wish Mann and Fitzgerald had lived long enough to finish their respective novels as I'm not really a fan of work "finished" by someone other than the original writer.

Regarding that, it will be interesting to see what happens to J.D. Salinger's (presumably) unfinished work now that he's dead. Will his heirs have the work "finished" and published?

John said...

I can think of several books about writers with writer's block who can't complete their work. Stephen King liked to write about that idea repeatedly (THE SHINING, MISERY, and especially BAG OF BONES) But to come up with a specific title about an unfinished book is more difficult.

Christos G. Makrypoulias said...

"Has anyone ever written a novel about an unfinished book?" I know I must sound rather like a broken record, but the book I suggested to you a few posts ago, The Last Dickens, is precisely such a novel: the mystery revolves around Dickens' unfinished work and the villain (whose identity is revealed in the very last chapters) is afraid that clues to his real identity may be found in the missing part of Edwin Drood, so he goes to great lengths to suppress it. Then there are various attempts of Sherlockian afficionados to produce short stories based on Holmes' cases mentioned by Dr Watson but never recorded. Alan Wilson's "The Adventure of the Tired Captain" is supposed to be one of the better specimens of such literary endeavors.

Martin Edwards said...

Hi Deb. I guess the financial attractions to heirs of getting books finished may provide the answer!

Martin Edwards said...

John, yes, I can't think of one.

Martin Edwards said...

Christos, I too have written up one or two of those Holmes stories! And I quite fancy a book about an unfinished book one of these days!
The Last Dickens does sound very interesting.

Christos G. Makrypoulias said...

Martin, my apologies! I guess I should have checked your website (as opposed to your blog) before I opened my mouth (or tapped at my keyboard). All I can say is "Oops"!

Martin Edwards said...

No problem at all, Christos!