William Boyd, a big-time bestseller, has descended to writing Solo, a new James Bond, following in Kingsley Amis’s and John Gardner’s plodding steps.
In a recent magazine article I read how Boyd had been doing research, learning about these swells “shooting pheasants in Scotland in August.”
“Mother of Moses,” I cried, “how could he get such a thing wrong?” It is grouse we swells shoot in Scotland on the glorious 12th of August; or, rather, have the swells shoot for us. In the old days when I pretended my occupation was “Gentleman” they rushed the grouse to my club, where I learned not to like it.
Anyway, maybe it wasn’t William Boyd’s fault. I saw that the article was written by Barry Norman. How could he have made such a mistake? Maybe he has too much to do. Not long ago he named Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes as one of his favourite films and then gave the cast of the non-Hitchcock remake starring Cybill Shepherd; a dreadful film except for the knickerless sit-upon-revealing white evening gown Ms Shepherd wears throughout.
Now we’re told a new Hercule Poirot novel will be coming out in September next year written by bestselling crimewriter Sophie Hannah.
This rifling of the past is nothing new. After Sapper died in 1937 his friend Gerald Fairlie continued the Bulldog Drummond books, not ending until The Return of the Black Gang in 1952. The thing is you can get Sapper’s novels, but where are Gerald Fairlie’s imitations?
The simulations got more classy this week. Joanna Trollope, of Aga Saga fame, has produced a “new” version of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, out this week. It is set, apparently, in modern times. (Didn’t Julie Birchill do the same thing in Sex and Sensibility?)
McCall Smith, of the No 1 Detective Agency, is going to “update” Emma. Will it be as amusing as Clueless?
Then Val McDermid, famed crime female, is doing Northanger Abbey. In fact all six of Jane Austen’s novels will be getting a going over, published by Harper Collins.
In the 1940s Jean Anouilh updated Sophocles’ Antigone with critical success. Top schools were using it as an “A” Level text in the 1960s. I once saw Sophocles’s play in the original Greek in, of all places, Liverpool in the 1960s. It was wonderful. One got the meaning, as one used to understand opera. I did even though I got an Omega in Greek – it was an Omega plus!! The most recent of the Anouilh update, as far as I can discover, was in 1974 on American television.
There is something about the idea of these sequels, however, that makes you want to sit down in the middle of the road, take your shoes off, and weep. Book publishing, we’re constantly being told, is in a bad way. Authors are being forced to publish original e-books for readers with Kindle etc. And here are publishers producing imitations. Certainly these imitations won’t be cheap – but why do it at all? It’s like chain store replications of haute couture.
Perhaps I shouldn’t talk. I have produced “Agatha Christie written by Raymond Chandler” with my latest bid for Christmas bestsellerdom, Murder In A Cold Climate. I haven’t actually been accused of imitation: “An entertaining pastiche,” the TLS called it – i.e. high class imitation.