A Note about Sequels or Companion Pieces

If you’re an exceptional writer and you’re compelled to revisit your fictional world, to expand on it, polish it, or tinker with it, do something different, for crying out loud, something interesting and formally inventive. Marilynne Robinson is a good case in point. She revisits Gilead, Iowa and the Boughton family and in particular Jack Boughton from a different point of view, with a different narrator, and in a different genre altogether. The result is a glorious amplification of fictional realities. Agnar Mykle, I’m afraid to say, is a bad case in point. In the transition from Lasso Round the Moon to The Song of the Red Ruby, Mykle spurns the heavy lifting of artistic creation. He merely lengthens the original novel by adding a couple hundred pages to the narrative so that we can glimpse another year of Ash’s virility in action. He uses the same narrator and the same point of view, and writes in the same genre, and even uses the same framing device. If your writerly treatment is uninspired, why should my readerly attention be any different?

4 Responses to A Note about Sequels or Companion Pieces

  1. Skip says:

    I imagine this is a tricky spot for writers. You’ve written something people like so it’s probably tempting to revisit it. It can be done as you say, but there are perils. Brett Easton Ellis’ revisitation of the characters from LESS THAN ZERO didn’t work for precisely the reason you mention: not only did he cover familiar territory, but he did it in the same way.

  2. Kerry says:

    I absolutely agree. Your Marilynne Robinson example is a very good one. I tend not to like sequels. Trilogies that were always intended to be trilogies are often great (Coetzee’s Boyhood, etc.; Dos Passos’s U.S.A. Trilogy; Auster’s The New York Trilogy) and often do not rehash old characters and formulas, but sequels tend to be let downs. As you say, they “spurn the heavy lifting of artistic creation”. Sequels are primarily sales-driven, not art driven, I believe.

  3. Great point Kevin. I’m not a big series reader – but like Kerry make an exception for intended trilogies. One Australian one is Elizabeth Jolley’s semi-autobiographical trilogy that started with My father’s moon. She would also sometimes revisit characters between short stories/novellas/novels – further develop them etc. Tim Winton does this a bit too but usually from a different perspective/pov as you suggest. These work – it’s like building up a picture where the individual works stand alone but a richness is achieved by the aggregation over time.

    I am wondering what Hilary Mantel will do with her Wolf Hall sequel. Will she mix it up a bit I wonder?

  4. Katia says:

    Very good post. I absolutely love this site. Thanks!

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