Classic versus Contemporary Writing – A Reader’s Dilemma

“The old lags familiar with the Wooster family set-up might like to practice a scale or two on the piano while I bring the tyros up to the mark on the important distinction to be made between my Aunt Dahlia who, though loud of voice and firm of view, is on the side of the Seraphim, Dominions and Powers, and this Aunt Agatha, who is so deeply imbued with shades of darkness that in the aftermath of bloodletting even Vlad the Impaler might have yielded her first dibs with stake and Mallet.”

This is an excerpt from a book titled “Jeeves And The Wedding Bells“.  However misleading the title might be, this is not a book by P.G.Wodehouse, who is synonymous with the Jeeves character. The author here is Sebastian Faulks – a well known novelist, journalist and broadcaster – best known for his historical novels like Birdsong, The Girl At The Lion d’Or, and Charlotte Gray. In addition to these, Faulks has authored a novel, Devil May Care – as a continuation of the James Bond books, and of course Jeeves And The Wedding Bells – a continuation of Wodehouse’s Jeeves series.

Faulks refers to this particular work of literature as a “homage to P.G.Wodehouse”. What got me thinking is why would an accomplished author write books that mimic the writing or take up on characters from existing works – and classic cum popular books that too. Faulks says he attempts to encourage the younger generation to experience Wodehouse’s literature if they haven’t read his books, and the older generation to reminisce about the books they have grown up reading. But in that case, readers can opt for original Wodehouses.

No doubt a writer might want to pay tribute to another literary influence, but by himself suggesting links to a well known series by a well known and widely read author, Faulks puts himself in a position of inevitable comparisons with Wodehouse. And that is something hard to match up to. I am three chapters down this book, and it is indeed funny. If I read the book as a book by itself, the writing is laugh-out-loud and the language usage impeccable. And I feel this is how Faulks should have presented the book – as an original piece of work, with his own characters and situations. Comparisons with Wodehouse cause the humor quotient to falter and tend to take away from Faulks’ writing. I will review the book in its entirety once I finish reading.

We are familiar with movie remakes or sequels made decades after the original, that fail to match up to their predecessors. Have you come across other books that are written as “homages” or “tributes” to famous authors or characters? What do you make of them? A book that fails to match up is obviously bad literature and worth staying away from. But what about a book that is actually good and its only flaw seems to be the lingering presence of a beloved author? Would that “mimicry” be termed a success or would the writer rather have published it as an original piece? What do you think about such books? – good originals, good adaptations, but inexorable comparisons pulling you apart as a reader.