The dilemmas of reading a sequel

At the moment I’m reading River of Smoke by Amitav Ghosh, the second in what will be the Ibis trilogy.  I very much enjoyed the first book Sea of Poppies, written in 2008 which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.

So, some eighteen months later, here I am with the second installment. The sad reality is that I really can’t remember all that much about the first, except that I enjoyed it.  Even my own blog post doesn’t enlighten me particularly.  I’m aware that he’s providing small snippets of back story for those who have not read the first book, but they’re not evocative enough to trigger a rush of memories.  At the moment, all they’re doing is frustrating me- should I remember more about this character???

Reading a trilogy as it is being produced, rather than coming to it later as a finished product, means that there is often a long waiting time between volumes- three years in this case.  Authors generally do back track a bit, but there’s a limit to how much they’re able to do this without retelling the first story over again.  I assume that they write so that a new reader could read it without having read the first book.  However, while the author has probably been living with his characters – and maybe even his/her vision for the work as a whole , for years- readers (or at least, I)  don’t have this same level of intimacy and have moved on to other books and other stories.

So what to do? Thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I can easily find a plot summary of the earlier book but somehow that feels like cheating.  I feel as if the book should be able to stand on its own two feet, but I’m willing to admit that perhaps the problem in this case lies more with the reader than the author.

Dammit- I’m going to do it.  Lord Wiki, here I come.


7 responses to “The dilemmas of reading a sequel

  1. I feel your pain. I think your quandary is one reason I never picked up Ken Follett’s sequel to Pillars of the Earth. I knew I enjoyed the first one in the early 90s, but other than the story revolving around the building of a cathedral, I had NO memory of any of the characters or the plot.

    • I’m glad I’m not alone! Often trilogies or series are later described as ‘Dickensian’ in terms of their multiple plots and huge array of characters, but Dickens’ works were coming out with more regularity and much shorter lead times than these novels. I’m sure that the act of reading them compiled into a single volume, once the whole thing has been published, is completely different than our stretched-out reading experience.

  2. I couldn’t remember the fine print of Sea of Poppies either, but I soon got so absorbed in the new story (which leaves the world of SoP far behind) that it didn’t matter.

  3. My husband has a policy of not starting to read a series until the author has finished writing it because of the length of time between the publication of each book of a series.

    • I think I’m with him. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever read a series as it’s been released before. I suppose that whole generations of children growing up with Harry Potter have done so.
      With my newly adopted policy, that means that I can embark on Frank Moorhouse’s trilogy now.

  4. Pingback: ‘River of Smoke’ by Amitav Ghosh | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

  5. Pingback: ‘Flood of Fire’ by Amitav Ghosh | The Resident Judge of Port Phillip

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