The Sequel Effect

I don’t think I’m the only one that the word ‘sequel’ makes nervous.  Thanks to many disappointments – admittedly most at the hands of filmmakers – I groan inwardly whenever I read that an author has written a sequel to a book that I loved.  I’m not talking about a book series made up of a few books that tell one story or really even the type of series common in the Romance and Mystery genres that tell different stories connected by a locale or a family or a sleuth – though subsequent books in those types of series do often disappoint.  No, I’m talking about when an author – or more likely their publishers – decides to write a continuation of a story that seemed to be satisfactorily complete with the first book.

The wonderful original

Yet, despite my dread, I can’t resist the desire to read more by a favorite author or about characters that I enjoyed.  So I read it.  Compounding my hesitation in the case of Graeme Simsion’s second novel about Don Tillman and his developing relationship with Rosie, The Rosie Effect, was a poor rating on  I try not to put too much stock in those ratings, knowing that enjoyment in reading is a personal activity, but I had to wonder what could be so terrible to earn the sequel to The Rosie Project, which currently has a 4-star rating, such a low rating.   The Rosie Project was one of the rare books that actually had me laughing, out loud and often.  It was also, at turns, profound, thought-provoking, and educational.  And I just loved Don by the end of his adventure.  So I guess I was expecting not to laugh as much or to find as many words of wisdom in this second book.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

The fun sequel

I laughed, I facepalmed and said ‘oh god’ through all of Don’s misadventures as he attempted to come to terms with a major life change without destroying all he’d built with Rosie and the friendships he’d created.  Like the first novel, it was a screwball comedy on paper.  All the while I learned from and identified with many of the observations Don makes as he tries to navigate a society that is quick to judge him for his differences.  One of my favorite scenes is when he and Rosie are discussing baby names and he says, “Humans should be permanently under development.”  While this echoes Don’s own experiences in the course of the two novels, it is something we all need to realize.  We may never change who we intrinsically are by we are always working on being the best version of that person for ourselves and our loved ones.

Don Tillman is a wise man but most of the people he encounters don’t see it because he is wired differently.  This is illustrated beautifully in the passage that spoke the most to me.

“I wanted to shake not just Lydia but the whole world of people who do not understand the difference between control over emotion and lack of it, and who make a totally illogical connection between the inability to read others emotions and inability to experience their own.”

I think I read that passage five times before I could move on.  Why do we judge people who don’t react the way we would in an emotional or stressful situation?  Don’t we need all types to get through the tough times?  The criers, the ragers, the jokers, and the cool heads.

Wow!  This really got away from a discussion about sequels.  I guess what I’m saying is that, yes, sequels can often disappoint when you are passionate about the original.  Sometimes, though, wonderful characters and honest stories transcend inferior writing, or – on those happy occasions – the sequel can build on the original, turning two standalone books into one delightful story.  Is The Rosie Effect as good as the original?  Probably not but you only get the right to criticize a sequel if you read it.  And remember any sequel probably won’t be as disappointing as a movie adaptation would.  Not that I wouldn’t go to see a film version of Don and Rosie’s story.  I can think of an Australian actor that could take on the challenge of playing Don Tillman   (*cough* Hugh Jackman *cough*).

Just puttin’ it out there


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