Few authors escape a feeling of disappointment when their book is published — the sense that, with just a bit more time, they’d have ironed out all those clunky sentences, the cliched dialogue and messy plot links that seem so obvious now the book is printed. Sadly, there’s sod all you can do about it, so you just close your eyes and hope no one else notices.
Not so Jeffrey Archer. “Last year I set about the task of rewriting Kane and Abel, some 30 years after its first publication,” announces The World’s Greatest Story-Teller (TM). “Was it worth it? I hope you’ll think so.” Actually, it’s hard to tell. In this innovative effort to wring yet more money from his back catalogue (think Beatles Remastered for books), Archer hasn’t actually changed the plot, and though I once read Kane and Abel on a beach 25 years ago, I can’t say I can spot the textual differences. Certainly, with sentences such as: “General Bradley kept sending him congratulatory notes and meaningless decorations to adorn his ever-expanding uniform, but they didn’t help,” he hasn’t finally morphed into a stylist.
All the same, he has added 24,700 words while knocking out 31,700 from the original manuscript. And any process that saves the reader 7,000 Archer-words must be worthwhile.
And publishing-wise, he might just be on to something. After all, how many books couldn’t benefit from an edit? Does War and Peace really need to clock in at 1,408 pages? And Ulysses often tops the charts as the most unread book — so get rid of Stephen Dedalus. Then we’d be spared the Aristotelian ruminations, the undergraduate theories, the boring persecution complex. What a relief.
Thomas Hardy, too, could have let Jude the Obscure get into Christminster. Poor Jude would not then have had to kill pigs, live in sin or spawn suicidal children. Instead, he would be Jude the Very Obscure, a professor of German metaphysics and the protagonist of the first campus novel.