I like to read. It is my favourite thing. And there is no better feeling than discovering a really good book. It’s like falling in love, only better. I remember being 11-years-old and discovering the awesomeness of Austen and the Brontë sisters; my friends Susan and I would scheme up ways to nick books from the library, since we were only allowed to take out a certain amount of volumes at a time (this was much more fraught with peril than it sounds). I looked forward to Book Week all year long, and well-near bankrupted my parents when it finally arrived. I’ve read a lot of books in the last decade or so, but recently, I’ve been trying to pinpoint the time when I stopped expecting to be surprised by a new novel. More often than not, I’ve been there, read that.
Now, I’m not one of those people. You know, the ones that say that Harry Potter is exactly like Lord of the Rings because both happen to have two wise, eccentric and powerful wizards with some stylish beards: I understand that intertextuality exists, that a “poem, novel or play that does not in some sense relate to previous texts is, in fact literally unimaginable” (Bennett and Royle 2009). But some common themes or reminiscent characters isn’t the same as entire novels – or sometimes, a series of novels – that leave you with an overwhelming sense of déja vu.
I know what you’re all thinking – I’m thinking it, too: I blame fan fiction. At my most bitter, I have cursed the fan fiction gods – they are, after all, responsible for the horrors of the Fifty Shades… trilogy, very transparently spawned from Twilight fan fiction – but I frequently remind myself that they also bestowed upon me Cassandra Clare, a fan fiction staple that went on to create the Mortal Instruments universe, which is seriously some of the best YA fantasy fiction available. But Jace Wayland and Magnus Bane aside, the truth still remains; it’s become easier to work off of someone else’s imagination than start from scratch.
I try to comfort myself by saying that the shortage of original literature only makes the exception that much better – Americanah, Gone Girl and a few others spring to mind – but in the words of one of those exceptions, John Green – author of the incredible The Fault In Our Stars – “the existence of broccoli does not, in any way, affect the taste of chocolate”. Does anyone really want to eat mounds of broccoli before getting to nibble on a Ferrero Rocher? (N.B. I actually love broccoli and hate chocolate, so that metaphor doesn’t really work for me, but apparently the general public loves chocolate and loathes broccoli).
In defence of these writers, their trade is not an easy one. They operate in an industry that has rejected some of its most famous alumni: nine publishers rejected Queen Rowling herself before someone took a chance on The Boy Who Lived. So I understand that sometimes, if you find a formula that works, the temptation to jump on the bandwagon is nigh on impossible to resist. In the wake of The Hunger Games, I’ve read countless novels that have followed Suzanne’s recipe for success to the letter:
Dystopian society + reluctant heroine/anti-hero + love triangle = best-seller [film adaptation still pending].
Has the most esteemed platform for creativity become a breeding ground for the uninspired, the unimaginative? I hope not. As someone hoping to work in the publishing industry and as a lover of literature, I like to believe that literature still can and will surprise and thrill me (otherwise, what would Hollywood do?). If success means sacrificing literature’s biggest sell – as a playground for our imagination – then I hope writers in the post-Rowling generation can learn to value ingenuity over acclaim.
Sonia Muhwezi is the Deputy Editor of FILM, THEATRE & TELEVISION at PTL. She recently graduated from Brighton University, where she studied English Language and Lit. She hopes to go into Publishing. In other Sonia related info, it’s worth mentioning that she can turn any conversation into a game of Six Degrees to Harry Potter and is a Beyoncé stan.
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