Wednesday, February 26

Second Take: 2015’s biggest book sequels fail to carry legacy

"The Girl in the Spider's Web" by David Lagercrantz (left) is the fourth book of Stieg Larsson's "Millennium Series." Harper Lee's "Go Set a Watchman" (right) is the sequel to her novel "To Kill a Mockingbird." Both novels were released in 2015. (Alfred A. Knopf and HarperCollins)

This week, Daily Bruin A&E is counting down to the new year by looking back at the best and worst events in the arts and entertainment world of 2015.

Today, A&E contributor Matthew Fernandez discusses 2015’s releases of two highly anticipated sequels to classic book franchises: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” and “Go Set a Watchman.”

Not even books were immune to the bad sequel syndrome in 2015.

Two of the year’s biggest literary releases, Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” and David Lagercrantz’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” were subject to extensive publicity campaigns only to be tremendous letdowns unworthy of the legacies they attempted to carry.

“Go Set a Watchman”

“Go Set a Watchman” is the sequel to Harper Lee’s classic novel “To Kill A Mockingbird” and was released July 14. The book’s manuscript was purportedly discovered among Lee’s assets and marketed as a sequel, though Lee claims the manuscript was an early draft of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Despite Lee’s claims that “Go Set a Watchman” was written first, it feels more like a haphazardly cobbled sequel that relies too much on the audience’s nostalgia and goodwill toward the original novel.

“Go Set a Watchman has too many references to events in its predecessor and contains appearances by characters from the original that are little more than cameos in this novel – too insubstantial to function on their own and operating under the assumption that the audience has an established knowledge of who they are.

The book’s evident fan service and dubious origin are not even its greatest sins. Much worse is the lack of any interesting story whatsoever. It is painfully boring. Countless pages are wasted on 26-year-old Jean Louise “Scout” Finch’s dull flashbacks and introspection. The little time spent outside of her reveries is wasted angrily tromping around Maycomb, Alabama, or finding excuses to avoid her loved ones.

The book’s driving force comes from the revelation that her father, Atticus, a fan-favorite character and the moral compass of the previous novel, is a racist. This bombshell culminates in a didactic and uncomfortable apology for Southern racial perceptions that feels outdated, unnecessary and wrong, so convinced of the righteousness of its own convictions despite what history has said to the contrary.

Lee’s heavy-handed attempt to defend the subjugation of black people via Atticus is completely out of character for him and sounds as if Lee still believes that the injustices of the 20th century were somehow justified. Given the recent controversy over the Confederate flag and its sordid legacy, it would make sense for Lee to use the book to defend her heritage, but using the beloved characters of “To Kill a Mockingbird” as a political platform is a violation of the fans’ trust.

Taking into account the confusing production history (the sequel was written first?), absence of any noteworthy plot and the fact that the book blatantly takes advantage of fans, “Go Set A Watchman” is a disaster. At $27.99, it is highway robbery offering 288 pages of mind-numbing self-reflection, Lee’s poor attempts to justify the “Lost Cause” racism of the South and a bitter taste in the mouth.

The Girl in the Spider’s Web”

The year’s second disastrous book sequel, David Lagercrantz’s “The Girl in the Spider’s Web,” is the fourth book in Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium Series,” which follows the adventures of hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist. Lagercrantz’s work features Larsson’s popular characters but lacks the grittiness and violence that were essential to the series.

Like “Go Set a Watchman,” “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” faced its own production controversy. Larsson’s original trilogy was only discovered and published posthumously in 2005. Though Larsson’s plans for seven more books were found, his longtime writing partner and girlfriend, Eva Gabrielsson, has criticized any attempt at continuing the series and has refused to release the book plans, saying that Larsson would never have allowed anyone else to touch the series. However, Larsson’s estate fell to his father and brother, who hired fellow Swede David Lagercrantz to continue the series.

The decision was a mistake. While Lagercrantz does his best to breathe life back into Larsson’s world, he does so imperfectly, resulting in characters that are only shadows of their former selves. In a series known for its graphic violence and gritty realism, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is tame and plagued with self-restraint, as if Lagercrantz was afraid to commit Larsson-esque brutality to ink and paper.

Intrepid journalist Blomkvist has lost his conviction and punk hacker Salander seems stripped of her rage and violent brilliance. The book as a whole is devoid of the same page-turning urgency as its predecessors, replaced with shoehorned references to America’s National Security Agency controversy.

Rather than a self-contained adventure, “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” is little more than an obvious setup for the installment of the series. Its plot is uneventful, and though new and menacing forces are introduced, it is toward the end of the book.

Lagercrantz dangles the prospect of a good story with compelling villains in front of readers like a piece of meat in front of a hungry dog, only to snatch it away at the last moment. The potential for excitement was introduced too late in the game to save the story from itself, assuming that it did a good enough job to make readers want to buy the next book. Like “Go Set a Watchman,” it depends too much upon its eager fan base to gobble it up, but does not deliver upon the promise of a good story.

Considered two of the most anticipated books of 2015, “Go Set a Watchman” and “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” are severely disappointing and fail to uphold their legacies. Both books appear to be little more than publishers’ attempts to milk money from expectant fans.

Matthew Fernandez

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