This is one of those weeks when I’m here but not here, if you get my drift.
Not being part of the generation who carries his/her world everywhere on a cyber-device which fits in the pocket of a pair of skinny jeans, I leave the portion of my life which happens online behind on my trusty laptop when I spend a night, or more than a night, away from home. Which means that if I’m away from home on a Wednesday, I have to make alternative arrangements if my blog post is going to appear on schedule. Sometimes I trust to other people, which seems to work, since the other people have never let me down; other times I cross my fingers trust to technology, which so far has worked, but more by luck than any techno-skill on my part.
This is one of the other times. Fingers crossed.
On Wednesday this week, when I would normally be settled at my desk, I shall be steeping myself in all things Shakespearean. Other half and I are spending a couple of days in Stratford-upon-Avon, visiting various Bard-related houses and gardens and seeing two plays – which, ironically, aren’t Shakespearean at all. We have tickets, booked ten months ago and even then probably the last two available for each night, for the stage adaptations of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.
More on that next week, since at time of posting it hasn’t happened yet.
I’ve often wondered about the rationale behind so-called ‘reworkings’ of classic novels by modern authors; and in similar vein, the continuation of a successful series after the death of the original author. The weekend newspapers were full of the latest example: Black-Eyed Blonde, a ‘new’ Philip Marlowe novel, by the crime-writing alter ego of an award-winning British literary novelist.
I can see how it would work from a financial point of view. Take James Bond, for instance. Huge movie franchise raises profile of handful of spy novels by second-rung author (rabid fans please note, I didn’t say second-rate), so there’s a bandwagon just waiting to be jumped on.
So using the same logic, I suppose Raymond Chandler is fair game. And so is Jane Austen.
I feel OK about bringing Jane Austen into a mystery fiction blog for three reasons: P D James, Val McDermid and Alexander McCall Smith. Death Comes to Pemberley has more of Jane Austen and less of, say, C J Sansom about it than the average historical crime novel, but it does include a suspicious death, an investigation and a last-minute dénoument. Val McDermid’s modern reimagining of Northanger Abbey isn’t out yet, and it’s likely that Alexander McCall Smith hasn’t even finished reimagining Emma, but they’re both established and illustrious authors in the genre, so I’m guessing there will be a mystery element in both.
Death Comes to Pemberley is the latest in a long line of Jane Austen ‘sequels’; they have been happening for decades. I suppose it was only a matter of time before some publisher with a keen eye for the market would come up with The Jane Austen Project, of which the other two form part. And at least the Project is a series of modern reimaginings, and not attempts to create something new in the style of the original.
But Benjamin Black writes Philip Marlowe in the style of Raymond Chandler? This one worries me.
Am I alone in believing that a classic becomes a classic because the author has done something unique, and trying to reproduce (or do I just mean copy?) that uniqueness does no one any service beyond a healthy profit for someone?
And thereby hangs the answer. A healthy profit for someone. The curiosity factor kicks in, and people buy the books. I’ll pass on Black channelling Chandler, but heck, I’ll probably buy the neo-Jane Austens when they’re out in paperback, so I’m as guilty as anyone.
But doesn’t the very fact that the books exist tell you something about the way publishing has gone? And doesn’t it make you fear for the next generation of classics, who may not exist, because publishers would rather raise the dead?