Unfinished Novels

Recently, Harper Collins announced that it will publish two of Michael Crichton’s unfinished novels. Prior to that, the upcoming publication of an unfinished David Foster Wallace novel made the news. Even thirty years after the death of Vladimir Nabokov, author of Lolita, his son has announced that Nabokov’s unfinished The Original of Laura will be published in 2009 – disregarding Nabokov’s wishes to have it burned after his death.

Stephen Moss at The Guardian writes, “Leave unfinished works alone - let their authors rest in peace.” What do you think?

Have you ever read an unfinished novel? These books were all incomplete when the authors died.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, author of the American classic The Great Gatsby, died in 1940. One year later, his unfinished manuscript was edited and published under the title The Last Tycoon. In 1993, the manuscript was re-edited and published as The Love of the Last Tycoon: A Western.

A tell-all tale about society, Answered Prayers by Truman Capote contained malicious gossip about his friends. Begun in the 1960s, the author of In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s had not completed this work by the time of his death in 1984. The fragmentary manuscript was published in 1986 as Answered Prayers: The Unfinished Novel.

Crime writer Raymond Chandler had completed only four chapters of Poodle Springs when he died in 1959. This unfinished novel about private investigator Philip Marlowe was completed by mystery writer Robert B. Parker in 1989 and well-received by critics.

Charles Dickens died in 1870 before he could finish his novel The Mystery of Edwin Drood. More than one subsequent author has completed this half-finished novel. In 1874 Thomas James claimed his version was ghost-written by Dickens. Other versions include The Mystery of Edwin Drood concluded by Leon Garfield, The Decoding of Edwin Drood by Charles Forsyte, and a novel inspired by Dickens’ work – Drood by Dan Simmons.

The author of popular novels Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen left the novel Sanditon unfinished at her death in 1817. Like The Mystery of Edwin Drood, this novel has had many continuations published, including Jane Austen's Charlotte: Her Fragment of a Last Novel completed by Julia Barrett.


Angela Kille

Angela Kille is a librarian at the Kansas City Public Library.