Twice as nice: The 5 best literary sequels you need to read

bestliterarysequels

Now that Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman, the sequel to everyone’s favourite legal thriller (sorry, Grisham), To Kill A Mockingbird, is slated for release later this summer (mid-July, if you’re counting), it’s got us thinking about our most loved, best literary sequels. While it’s easy to get cynical – it’ll never be as good as the first book; the writer’s clearly out of original ideas; it’s all about cashing in – it’s hard, also, to deny that special thrill of recognition when familiar characters recur in a new story. Here’s a few of which we’re especially fond; we bet you’ve loved them, too.

Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies (1930)

Best literary sequels

Waugh might be best known for the melancholy grandeur and Catholic guilt of Brideshead Revisited, but his very first published book was Decline and Fall (1928) a social satire lampooning British high society in the 1920s. Its sequel, Vile Bodies (1930), is a send-up of romantic comedies as well as its protagonists’ youthful ways. While it features characters from the earlier book, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone text, too. It was adapted by Stephen Fry in 2003 as Bright Young Things – but we reckon the book’s sharper.

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass, And What Alice Found There (1871)

Best literary sequels

Everybody talks about Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and though we won’t deny its brilliance, its sequel is funnier and creepier, and many of the incidents we associate with the former (Tweedledum and Tweedledee!) thanks to Walk Disney’s versions, actually appear in the latter – as does the Jabberwocky poem. In this book, Alice plays a terrifyingly literal game of chess, meets Humpty Dumpty and the Lion and the Unicorn and worries that she’s a figment of the Red King’s imagination. Brilliant.

Joseph Heller, Closing Time (1994)

Best literary sequels

The long-awaited sequel to Heller’s WWII satire, Catch 22 (1961), Closing Time picks up Yossarian’s story several decades later, at the end of his life, and interweaves it with that of two other veterans. While a more somber read than its predecessor, it’s still funny and bizarre and obsessed with death (though age-related this time). There’s also an underground network of government tunnels in Manhattan, which house a reconstructed fin de siècle Coney Island, and links up with Hell itself. As you do.

Justin Cronin, The Twelve (2012)

the twelve

This is the second in a trilogy, actually, but we’re running with it anyway, because it’s not only a brilliant example of how the middle sibling need not be the weak link, it’s also a truly enthralling literary vampire/apocalypse/outbreak story that marries high-octane action sequences with top-notch prose. Stephanie Mayer and her legions of imitators ought to read Cronin and start over; this is how you do vampires, and this is how you do a sequel. (The final volume is out later in 2015.)

Marilynne Robinson, Home (2008)

home

Set in the town of Gilead, Iowa (the book that precedes it is called Gilead), Home is the story of Reverend Robert Boughton and two of his many grown-up children, Glory and Jack, as narrated by Glory. Rather like Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood, Home doesn’t follow Gilead chronologically, but instead parallels it, so that we see the same series of events and characters from a different perspective. Like Gilead, it moves slowly and thoughtfully, and it’s preoccupied with sin and grace. A beautiful book and one worth savouring. Again, a third volume, Lila, is now available.

So those are ours, but which sequels do you think we ought to add to our bookshelves? Let us know down below.

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5 replies
  1. Lauri
    Lauri says:

    Vile bodies, vile people, vile attitudes, only they could have named themselves ‘bright young things’. Good book, Evelyn Waugh knows his own kind but also knows how to send them up. Definitely worthy of this selection.

    Reply
  2. Vane22
    Vane22 says:

    Through the looking glass really is so fun and trippy. What a wild imagination Lewis Carroll had! There is no actual historical evidence that he used drugs but…seriously what was he on??!! Many of everyone’s favorite bits from the various film versions (Jabberwocky, Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee) are from this book, not Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, so I highly recommend reading this one.

    Reply
  3. Vamplo
    Vamplo says:

    I thought Cronin’s storytelling was tighter in The Twelve. Everything that he delivers in story brings you deeper into this fantastic story. I love it.

    Reply
  4. JedL
    JedL says:

    When told that he he’d never written another book as good as Catch-22, Heller reportedly replied, “Who has?” Yet with Closing Time, he seems weighed down by the legacy of his masterpiece. Considering what a surreal and inventive ride Catch 22 was, I’m sorry to say I thought his long-delayed sequel was a bit of a joyless slog.

    Reply
    • Joel Willans
      Joel Willans says:

      Yeah, I must admit I found it something of a disappointment. But in fairness to Heller, Catch 22 was an insanely tough act to follow and I thought he brought the characters back to life beautifully.

      Reply

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