Writing from beyond the grave

When an author dies in the middle of writing a book, or before completing a series, there is the possibility that someone else will be enscripted to write for them, and finish their work. The thought of this can pull fans in two opposite directions; they may be dying to read the rest of the story, and to find out what happens in the end, and so would be grateful to the substitute author, and eager to read their offering. On the other hand, there may be a strong sense of loyalty to the original author, especially if they were well known, wrote prolifically, or had created a long series of books.

This is what happened when Robert Jordan passed away in 2007, leaving a plethora of fans and books, including the unfinished Wheel of Time series. In his case, death was not sudden, and so he had the chance to share his notes and ideas concerning the last book (split into three volumes). He also chose the writer to continue the work, Brandon Sanderson.

When I heard this news, I was sceptical. No-one could possibly follow such an amazing author, and the story would obviously suffer as a result. Still, it was equally impossible for me not to read the new installment, so judgement firmly in place, I bought the book and started to read.

I was halfway through The Gathering Storm before I remembered this wasn’t Robert Jordan, and that it was meant to be worse and that I would definitely hate it. Brandon Sanderson has done an incredible job, and the next book, Towers of Midnight is possibly my favourite of the entire series. It just goes to show that people can surprise you, and judging a book by its author (or cover, or genre etc.) is often mistaken. I’m so glad this series has continued, and am looking forward to reading the final final installment when it comes out next year.


*Minor Spoilers Alert*

The ending of a book is very important, as it fixes the overall impression that you are left with, and this feeling will determine whether you look back positively on the book or not. Yet it is quite tricky, and often rare to find the perfect ending. Although this is entirely subjective, books should finish in a way the reader agrees with; they should be realistic, tie up all the loose ends and leave you thinking. Whether its a part of a series or not, the ending should make you want a sequel. Either that or a frontal lobotomy so you can start at the beginning and enjoy it all over again.

Twists are good- something unexpected that makes you mentally go back through the book to see all the clues you missed. Thats much of the appeal of mystery or thriller novels, and while some people take pride in being able to predict the ending, I always like to be surprised. I’m quite a gullible reader anyway so am easily led down whichever mistaken path of thought the writer may want to lead me. Case in point: in a series I am reading, a woman ‘disappears’ never to be heard of again (for several books), with all evidence pointing to her death. When she came back I was pleasantly shocked, not having questioned the death theory at all.

Happy endings are not essential for me, I quite like sad books. If it must be happy, it should be good in an unexpected way to avoid being a cliche. With sequels and multi-book series there is even more pressure to get the final ending just right as the story is longer and the reader will be more involved. The ending should not feel as if it is rushed, or comes too quickly, or it can make you feel cheated.

My personal worst ending is the Harry Potter series. Sickeningly cheesy. In books with major battles or wars, the ‘good’ side always sustains only a handful of casualties and the main characters are rendered invincible regardless of the danger they are frequently in. One of my favourites is Perfume: the story of a murderer. It’s different, and brings everything together in a fascinating culmination of events. What’s your favourite ending?

One more thing; never read the ending first. You’ll only ruin it for yourself.

Lisbeth Salander: anti-heroine

Much has been written about Stieg Larsson’s female protagonist, so different and so much more complex than the cookie cutter women we find in so many books.

Lisbeth is cold and unfriendly and acts almost purely for her own self interests. She can be violent and crude. She wouldn’t like us, yet we still feel affection for her. The injustice she has had to face justifies much of her antisocial behaviour in our eyes and we admire the way she makes her own rules. Her loyalty for the few that she allows near is touching, even more so as we appreciate how difficult it is for her trust people and to form normal social relationships.

We want her to win, and at the same time are intimidated by the methods she will take to achieve her goals. Her survival instincts are incredible, and this drive to get what she wants, whether revenge, security or independence, pulls the audience along. We would feel sorry for her, but the tough exterior rejects pity like a shield. Lisbeth does not need our sympathy, indeed her lack of dependence on others is something we may find hard to accept.

So the positive regard we feel collects vaguely around her as there are no recognisable normal methods of ascribing this to her. One thing is certain; Lisbeth Salander is a pretty unforgettable character, and the perfect anti-heroine. What do you think of her?

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

I decided to start reading The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, by Scott Fitzgerald, and was shocked by how short it is. I’ve seen the film and to say it was long would be an understatement, so when I realised that the book is little more than a pamphlet I was taken aback. The same key events occur in the book, just significantly pared down, with a minimum of description. It skips over milestones such as marriage and joining the army with scarcely a backwards glance. The main idea is so interesting, so different from most storylines that I can’t help but feel disappointed with the lack of expansion in the book. Although my stance on film adaptions is generally ‘the book always wins’ I have to say that this case is an exception. Screenwriter Eric Roth may have taken the story to the other extreme in terms of length, yet I feel he has significantly added to it.

The book does include some aspects that the film omits, or skirts around, especially the generally painful atmosphere of watching as Benjamin grows up (or down?) in a family that directs so much negative emotion towards him. Fear, confusion and anger surface over the abnormality which is out of their control. Benjamin’s growing dissatisfaction with his ageing wife is also fascinating, an aspect of the story, and almost certainly of certain people’s lives, which is deemed distasteful by Hollywood, which seeks to glamorise and centralise the romantic element of the story.

Unrelenting in its pace, changes happen in the book before the narrative moves swiftly on. At the end of the novel, there is less than sufficient time to absorb all that has happened over the course of this incredible life, and then its over. The fairly callous, abrupt nature of the writing is certainly a style that makes you think- and although I wish there was more, perhaps the questions raised are designed to be answered in a personal way. Unfortunately my expectations had been primed by the film and so I will never know how I could have interpreted the book alone.

All in all, the style is as weird as the concept, and humanity’s swift rejection of the unfamiliar is clearly represented in the book, with the reader definitely left wanting more. Have you seen the film? Or read the book? Which way round?

Top 50 books

To welcome you to this blog and to give a little insight into my reading preferences I have compiled my top 50 ‘books everyone must read’. I will continue to update the list whenever I read something new and amazing, or if I remember some forgotten gem I should have included. What are your favourite books?

  1. Enders Game-Orson Scott Card
  2. Towers of Midnight- Robert Jordan & Brandon Sanderson
  3. His Dark Materials- Phillip Pullman
  4. The Chronicles of Narnia- C.S. Lewis
  5. Poirot Books- Agatha Christie
  6. The Wind on Fire- William Nicholson
  7. Alice in Wonderland- Lewis Carroll
  8. I Am David- Anne Holm
  9. The Help- Kathryn Stockett
  10. The Solitaire Mystery- Jostein Gaarder
  11. Little Women- Louisa May Alcott
  12. Ludo and the Star Horse- Mary Stewart
  13. The Time Traveller’s Wife- Audrey Niffenegger
  14. Mister Pip- Lloyd Jones
  15. Passenger- Billy Cowie
  16. Letters from the Inside- John Marsden
  17. A Different Life- Lois Keith
  18. Noughts and Crosses- Malorie Blackman
  19. Earth’s Children- Jean M. Auel
  20. The Midwich Cuckoos- John Wyndham
  21. Room- Emma Donoghue
  22. North Child- Edith Pattou
  23. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks- Rebecca Skloot
  24. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time- Mark Haddon
  25. You Don’t Know Me- David Klass
  26. Riding Tycho- Jan Mark
  27. Uglies- Scott Westerfeld
  28. Addition- Toni Jordan
  29. The Lovely Bones- Alice Sebold
  30. Little House on the Prairie- Laura Ingalls Wilder
  31. Arabian Nights- Various authors
  32. 1984- George Orwell
  33. Perfume- Patrick Suskind
  34. Mondays are Red- Nicola Morgan
  35. The Diary of a Young Girl- Anne Frank
  36. Never Let Me Go- Kazuo Ishiguro
  37. The Ice Cream Girls- Dorothy Koomson
  38. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly- Jean-Dominique Bauby
  39. The Girls- Lori Lansens
  40. Plain Truth- Jodi Picoult
  41. Millennium Trilogy- Stieg Larsson
  42. A Brave New World- Aldous Huxley
  43. Just So Stories- Rudyard Kipling
  44. Homeward Bound- Diana Wynne Jones
  45. The Kin- Peter Dickinson
  46. The Hobbit- J.R.R. Tolkien
  47. The Deepwood Chronicles- Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
  48. The Song of the Lioness- Tamora Pierce
  49. The Phantom Tollbooth- Norton Juster
  50. Coram Boy- Jamila Gavin