Sequels We Loved… and Sequels We Forgot

8th Aug 2013

Sequels We Loved... and Sequels We Forgot
You know that soaring feeling when you’re reading a book you love - a book with the most brilliantly-written characters and gripping plot?

And you know that ‘back to reality’ feeling you get as you notice that you’re onto the last five pages? That you’re about to have the warm duvet of this glorious piece of fiction yanked off you?

Sometimes, it feels impossible to tear yourself away from a book – and sequels give us just enough extra storyline to cope with the end of a masterpiece. Sequels might be one-offs, the start of a series, or the next book in a trilogy – but let’s define a sequel as any book that says, ‘Hang on, we’re not done here, are we? Let’s get some closure’.

A great sequel is one that takes a great first novel, and gives the story even more potential.A great sequel is one that takes a great first novel, and gives the story even more potential. Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake was a fascinating dive into the future, and too big for one novel – hence The Year of the Flood and the forthcoming Maddadam.

But there are times when sequels don’t hit that high note. For example, everyone knows Catch-22, the war novel by Joseph Heller that has a place in almost everytop 100 list you’ll ever read.

But what of Closing Time? Heller published a sequel to his most famous novel in 1994, setting Catch-22’s characters in 1990s New York, but it was overshadowed by its older, better-known original and some critics complained that its characterisation differed too much from its predecessor.

Sometimes, though, a sequel’s acclaim just comes down to it being published hot on the heels of its original – Dodie Smith’s Starlight Barking, for instance.

Before readers took to their laptops to throw Harry Potter into bed with Ron, publishers sated our curiosity for literature’s great love affairs by producing sequels to Gone With the Wind and Pride and Prejudice.

Are books like Scarlett and Mr Darcy Takes a Wife better than your average slash tale? The suspicion is, probably not. Good job Louisa May Alcott held onto the reins when it came to Jo from Little Women – it turned out that Laurie wasn’t the right man for her after all.

But it seems as if sequels-as-closure have also lost their appeal since the birth of fanfiction. We’ve certainly become more critical of them. When Sally Beauman published Rebecca’s Tale in 2001, fans of the original were horrified by its attempt to demystify Daphne du Maurier’s finely-crafted female characters.

Cynics might point out the fact that sequels are usually compelled by a naive urge to get closure or simplify an author’s original plot.

For instance many children’s novels run on into series – perhaps to help readers engage quickly with a new story by keeping the same old characters and settings, and to avoid the upsetting effects of change or uncertainty.

Some critics might even go as far as to say, the market for run-on stories appeases readers’ dislike for endings and ambiguity. A contemporary genre built on derivation and continuity, fanfiction, is still ridiculed on the same basis.

But what do you think – are sequels more than just a comfort blanket? And what novels would you like to see sequels to?

(Image via damaradeaella)