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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Writers' Other Work

Completely by coincidence, one discovered Lawrence Durrell’s Antrobus Complete and Scott Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby Stories on the bookshelf, and re-read them back to back. Both, of course, seen as “lesser” work by the novelists; the first parodic (almost like a cruel P.G. Wodehouse in the British Diplomatic Corps) and the second, a self-mocking reaction to “selling out” to Hollywood.

Which got one thinking: which other such examples exist, of writers turning out work that’s a quite different in tone and manner from their regular efforts? (Not simply parodic sketches, mind you, but full-length work.)

For a start, there’s the charming Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot (which, as everyone knows, was the basis for the musical), written in the 1930s to amuse his godchildren and friends, but which proved irresistibly popular almost at once.

Then, Graham Greene famously dismissed his written-to-please Stamboul Train as an “entertainment”, and went on to produce others similarly dubbed; but then, such “entertainments” are as much a part of Greeneland as his other novels. Without the reception to Stamboul Train, in fact, he may never have had the confidence to go on writing novels.

In 1968, there was Colonel Sun, the first James Bond book to be published after Ian Fleming’s death, written by one Robert Markham – who turned out to be Kingsley Amis. (The plan was to release a series of James Bond novels written by different authors under the Robert Markham name, but this was the only one published.)

In a slightly different context, Arthur Conan Doyle made Holmes vanish into the Reichenbach Falls because he was fed up of the fictional detective and wanted to concentrate on the historical and other work that he felt was his true metier. (Hmmm…could it be that J.K. Rowling is dropping dark hints about Master Potter’s demise simply because she’s bored?) More recently, Michael Chabon published an accomplished Sherlock Holmes novella, The Final Solution, although with Chabon’s taste for delving into genre fiction and rendering it “respectable”, one can’t really point to this as an exception to his other work.

One supposes Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories, written for his son, could also fit into this category, although that would take us down a long and winding road of those who’ve tried their hand at children’s books, leading all the way to…Sir Paul.


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