The subsequent flooding of the bestseller lists with so called 'mummy porn' has left me unmoved but also un-outraged - most of it looks utter rubbish, true, but then the bestseller lists are often rubbish, and frankly I'd rather see some jobbing writer coin it in than some reality TV star who sees fit to write a biography at the grand old age of 24. In fact, the author in me is actually quite chuffed for all those erotic novelists who have spent years churning out titles to little appreciation and now find their backlist given a 50 Shades makeover and being promoted on the shelves of WH Smith.
|Spicing up the classics|
So I was amused rather than outraged when publisher Clandestine Classics announced it planned to release digital versions of sexed up classic (and, importantly, out of copyright) titles such as Wuthering Heights – and they weren’t the only ones with that idea. Cue inevitable backlash on debasing the originals, the dumbing down / sexing up of society, the death of creativity and dearth of original ideas... But, honestly, why get your bloomers in such a twist? It's not exactly new: authors have been writing sequels for years, and recently there has been a whole trend for supernatural takes on familiar titles, whether you want to see Elizabeth Bennett go all Twilight in Mr Darcy, Vampyre (only one of several Darcy-as-vampire books) or all Walking Dead in Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (surely even if you hate the trend, you can admire the idea of Jane Slayre? No? Come on!). Nor is it the first time that someone has sexed them up: the P & P sequel Mr Darcy Takes A Wife is, I am reliably informed, a Jilly Cooper style bonkbuster in which Mr Darcy, ahem, takes his wife. Repeatedly.
|Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska steamed up the screen as Jane and Rochester|
In the spirit of pure research - honest, officer - I decided to download a couple of these titles and see what the fuss was about. Pan’s Jane Eyre Laid Bare was choice number 1: swayed by its elegant cover and the fact that, yes, it was only 99p. (I haven't read it yet, but will report back. Am I good to you, or what?) The second was the slightly more questionable looking Hemlock Bones: A Stud in Scarlet. No, seriously - presumably due to the restrictions of the Conan Doyle estate, the publishers didn't use the characters' names, so instead you have the puntastic Hemlock Bones and his trusty (and, it turns out, lusty) assistant Doctor Hotson in their nice little flat on Laker Street. Having whetted my appetite for some Holmesian fun with the enormously entertaining Robert Downey Jr film Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows on Saturday night, on Sunday I decided to give it a try. And it... wasn't actually bad. I mean, the prose quality of the added bits wouldn't give Ian McEwan sleepless nights, but... it wasn't that bad.
I'm not such an aficionado that I could tell if they'd just tweaked the original text and added bits, or just rewritten it in the style of Conan Doyle (it's decades since I read A Study in Scarlet), but it certainly felt authentic - and despite the rather Carry On feeling of the title, it was played straight (so to speak) as a crime thriller meets romance, even including the lengthy flashback to the killer's history which I vaguely remember finding tedious the first time round. Obviously, if one man swooning over another isn't your cup of Earl Grey (and be warned, there's quite a lot of swooning) or (fairly graphic) gay sex offends you or leaves you cold, this isn't a book you should be buying, but I found it actually quite charming and sweet, no more offensive to the characters than I did the RDJ film - which, let's face it, slathers the homoeroticism on with a trowel. Frankly, the often shonky formatting was the most offensive thing in the book.
Classics become classics because they have a high degree of robustness; in the same way Shakespeare can take pretty much anything we throw at him, so can these stories and characters. Sure, you could argue it's just fan fiction with an editor and a marketing budget - but so what? Nobody is stealing the originals and locking them away - this isn't the Chapman Brothers defacing Goya paintings and ruining them from future generations. This is writers putting their own spin on stories that will outlive us all. I, for one, have no problem with that.