Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Check the author!

I've read, in the last few months, backstories, sequels, etc of 'classic works' that have not been written by the original author.

Most have lost the voice and idealism of the original author and you are left thinking "What the heck happened here?" and maybe they just did it to jazz it up. Some are really disastrous.

Books I've read recently that fall into this category are:

March by Geraldine Brooks - the backstory to Little Women by Louisa M. Alcott
Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman - the backstory to Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
Rhett Butler's People by Donald McCaig - the backstory to Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

(I've also read, some time back, Scarlett by Alexandra Ripley, the sequel to Gone With the Wind)

One of the greatest criticisms readers have is that real feeling for style and the geograhic/time period is rarely carried over with flair. If these authors want to see how that's done well, they should take a lesson from Charles Tritten, who wrote Heidi Grows Up, the sequel to Heidi, and captured the style of original author Johanna Spyri beautifully (though not perfectly). Well at least I thought so, though I've only ever read the English translation. The story isn't really original but the voice is much closer to the original than any of the other books above got. Though Amazon.com readers obviously didn't agree with me!

March loses what some readers might see as the innocence that was endearing in the first novel and not really like the idea of Mr March doing all those things that are described - but if you ask me, it's the best of the three mentioned above as it's well-written and the most believable. Ms Brooks has done her homework, and though she has taken liberties, they make sense within the context.

I'm a fan of the book Rebecca and while I read Rebecca's Tale ... let's just say I thought it a bit lame. Rebecca had become for me an intriguing character, and one who was mysterious and could possibly do things and had done things beyond the reach of other women. The Tale seemed to make her life just a bit too ordinary, and even seemed to hint at her reason for Maxim hating her as being a bit petty and stupid - one I just couldn't believe. It by no means captured the amzingly unreal but also fragile Rebecca that had haunted me before, and I guess the events befoer at Manderley - well, seemed mundane? I guess this is what you get for reading the expose of a horror story!

But Rhett Butler's People really took the cake. I advise against reading it if you are a Gone With the Wind fan, or at least don't read it with high hopes. It's an easy skim if you have read the Mitchell novel before, and takes us to before the novel starts and after it ends. By the way, despite going on after the novel ends, it doesn't go into the events that are in Ripley's Scarlett. It makes up different events.

The problem is, to a devoted GWTW fan, it really looks like McCaig only read GWTW a couple of times. There is a severe lack of feeling in atmosphere and also in detail. Sometimes he retells scenes in GWTW and he sticks closely to the dialogue used in the book, and then slips up by a phrase or word or two or three. It could be said this is because he is trying to say that he is tellingit from a different character's perspective, and every character remembers the conversation in a different way, but when he gets so close and then drifts, it becomes a bit pesky to a devoted fan like myself who has the dialogue in the book by heart. I don't have the novel by me and I can correct his dentences for him!

I also felt that to appeal to real GWTW lovers, something of passion should be present in the scenes. Maybe not in the same way that GWTW was, but stil, something raw and strong. After all, Rhett had a strong and passionate character too, so why not? But it often seemed like he would get to a scene and merely recount the events and throw in a bit of "This is what Rhett is thinking" without giving it real atmosphere. It didn't grab you by the throat and make you want to stop.

As one other reviewer I've read said, this is embarrassingly written like a moony sentimentalist. Rhett goes about mooning for Scarlett and a lotof the descriptions are written like a Mills and Boon, and even Rhett's motivations for leaving Scarlett on the road from Atlanta are changed to that of a romantic child's. It seems strange that the author does this, in a book meant to capture the male perspective, when the original, meant to capture the female POV, is strong, hard-headed, passionate and earthy.

At any rate, the characterisation was flat. I felt like I was given an overview rather than a real feel for anyone in the book, and this was lazily done to be read in tandem with GWTW where you were supposed to have got your opinions and imagination about the characters from GWTW and this would simply structure and steer the chaacters a little in the way for you, here and there.

Besides, the way Melanie and Scarlett were characterised was absolutely terrible. Scarlett was flat and Melanie was shown to not believe in her husband's honour but simply be putting on an act, for show. Oh dear.

These books are actually out there, published. It makes me think I could get going with my The Darker Side of Mary Poppins and I should have no trouble getting it endorsed and accepted. Hi ho!


Maria said...

Oh, and what was really grating was that it didn't feel like McCaig ever really got the hang of Scarlett's turn of phrase - but instead he tried to cover for his inadequacy by throwing a "Fiddle-dee-dee" every so often - in fact quite a lot. I know this was a well known phrase of Scarlett, but she had a very distinct way of speaking otherwise, her coquettishness, her temper and some of her ignorance, and when you don't capture this and you do just write "Fiddle-dee-dee!" often, instead of trying to use some of her other phrases or structures to imitate her, it sounds either like a parody or a desperate snatch at ... something!

JahTeh said...

I saw the mini-series of 'Scarlet' with Jo-anne Whalley and while it was universally panned, I enjoyed it as a good story on its own.