Another Round?

A Look at the Highs and Lows of Literary Sequels

Most authors are understandably reluctant to return to past glories. The best novels are definitive and self-contained, and a sequel can spoil that; readers often assume that if you're reduced to resurrecting old characters, you must be short on ideas, money, or both. But as Bret Easton Ellis's Imperial Bedrooms shows, a sequel can sometimes feel worthwhile, even necessary. In this list of the best and worst, we've excluded big, planned cycles, like Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time; sequels which turned out to be just one stage of a life's work devoted to a particular protagonist, like Raymond Chandler's Farewell My Lovely; and posthumous sequels by different authors, like Jean Rhys' Wide Sargasso Sea.

~The Best~

Put Out More Flags
by Evelyn Waugh
Characters from Vile Bodies, Decline and Fall and Black Mischief contend cheerfully with the Second World War.

Seeing by Jose Saramago
A less harrowing, more satirical sequel to Blindness by the recently deceased Portugese Nobel laureate, set four years afterwards in the same nameless city.

Ulysses by James Joyce
Stephen Dedalus, Joyce's alter ego from Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, grows up to cross paths with Leopold and Molly Bloom.

The Closed Circle by Jonathan Coe
Takes the characters from The Rotters Club into prosperous middle age, while resolving many of the mysteries of their school years in Birmingham.

Rabbit Redux by John Updike
Beginning with Rabbit, Run, the four novels (and one novella) about former high school basketball star Rabbit Angstrom are Updike's greatest achievement.

~The Worst~

Closing Time by Joseph Heller
Most people don't even know that there was a sequel to Catch 22, which is probably for the best.

Tom Sawyer, Detective by Mark Twain
This rather forgettable follow-up to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was an ill-fated attempt to cash in on the murder mystery craze of the 1890s.

The Last Post by Ford Madox Ford
For the rest of his life, Ford bitterly regretted writing this insubstantial fourth installment of the otherwise masterful Parade's End sequence.

Porno by Irvine Welsh
Critics agreed that Welsh couldn't recapture the energy of Trainspotting when he produced this update on the lives of its characters.

The Widows of Eastwick by John Updike
Sequels weren't always so fruitful for Updike, whose misjudged return to his 1984 money-spinner The Witches of Eastwick sadly turned out to be his final book.

~ Ned Beauman

Ned Beauman’s debut novel Boxer, Beetle is published by Sceptre on August 5


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