Bookshops are in trouble, and since, for my money, their absence would be the most abrupt and unnatural gap of any that we might anticipate on our future high streets, I’m willing to grant them almost unlimited powers to bring the punters in.
Unlike on Amazon, you are bound to notice books you didn’t intend to buy in a bookshop. If new writers can’t find an audience, there won’t be any more new writers; if old writers can’t maintain their appeal, they will go out of print. We’d be left with E L James and Jeremy Clarkson. This is not an acceptable state of affairs, and if the only way to prevent it is to put a picture of a kitten on every novel, that’s absolutely fine by me.
But you have to draw the line somewhere. If it doesn’t come before anyone suggests actually messing about with the text itself, we might as well all give up and cross our fingers for the sustainable future of the DVD box set. Unfortunately, Waterstones has joined hands with the publishers Transworld and marched briskly across that line, securing an extra chapter for the paperback edition of Joanne Harris’ novel Peaches for Monsieur le Curé that won’t appear in copies bought anywhere else. The additional section, Harris says, can be read as epilogue or prologue – the former to this novel, the latter to another one.
Such a step is nothing new; Louis de Bernières wrote a new final chapter for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin several years after the first edition was published. But it is always a bad idea. By grafting something on to the work, you change it. That change isn’t even reliant on a new plot element; the texture of a book, and especially of an ending, is bound to shift with the addition of another piece of reading. Besides, since when is more necessarily better? Does anyone think “Hey Jude” would be a superior song for the addition of another verse?
It’s maybe instructive to look at the media that use these kinds of “bonuses” the most – video games. I love video games, but I almost never consider them art, and a big part of that is to do with the way that their structure limits the possibilities for the creator to dictate terms to the audience. In novels, on the other hand, we place ourselves utterly in the writer’s hands; we trust them to describe the world and the people in it in a way we’ve never come across before.
I never want to lose this faith. But if the person telling me this story is telling other readers that they should know just a little bit more about the world that has been created, and that their access to this information is contingent on where they buy the book, how can I possibly sustain it?
A contrarian trio in the Falklands
The news that the referendum of Falkland Islanders resulted in an overwhelming majority for those who wished to stay British was not surprising, but it did come with one entertaining footnote: against the 1,514 votes to maintain the status quo, three brave souls stuck their necks out to vote the other way.
Yes, all right, it’s probably a few less civic-minded contrarians exercising their right to take the piss. Still, it’s pleasant to imagine the reaction on the streets of Port Stanley: a huddle of locals wondering who let them down, as a cheery neighbour in a Maradona shirt waves from his blue-and-white house. If the trio really are die-hards, why on earth don’t they just move to Buenos Aires? They might not like the climate, it’s true. But they would definitely be in the company of more like-minded people.