Sequels and prequels


Many a cultural sensation was either the culmination of years of failure and disappointment or a never-to-be-repeated flash in the pan. As we approach International Never Give Up Week we take a look at three triumphs that came against the odds. Some laid the foundations for brilliant careers, while others were those rare lentils that float (and nobody likes a floating lentil).

Yeah, I know. I dropped it last week. Sounds okay though.

Captain Corelli Takes Up the Banjo

Louis de Bernieres probably knew he would never get it so right again, but he gave it a go. And, like Status Quo following Pictures of Matchstick Men with the similar-sounding Black Veils of Melancholy, he decided to plough the same furrow.

The war is over and Antonio Corelli decides not to return to his home island, for fear of finding his lost love, Pelagia, changed, aged and in love with someone else. Instead he settles in a small town in the American deep south. His love of music leads him to join a jazz band, but they don’t like the mandolin and encourage him to learn a more rustic instrument. Then one day he visits the local fish market with the intention of buying some tilapia, and who should be gutting the fish but Pelagia, up to her eyes in scales and blood, but still beautiful, still single and still in love with him.

The book sold poorly, lacking as it did the drama of the Second World War background, although Hollywood did pick it up and filled it with flashbacks of appalling violence and atrocities. A stellar cast was assembled, including Woody Harrelson as Corelli and Sarah Silverman as Pelagia, but the audience had moved on and the film grossed just $27.48 during the all-important first weekend.

A rough diamond is one thing, but a rough amethyst is another. This is a fact.

Accidental Death of an Amethyst

Humble jewellery salesman Dario Fo was a genius playwright in search of The Idea when he came up with this intriguing tale of a gang of humanoid precious stones on the run in 19th century Italy. Despite (or perhaps due to) the brilliance of the concept, Fo had trouble finding a backer in London’s West End and tried several variations (Accidental Death of an Analyst, Anchovy etc.) before hitting on Accidental Death of a Masochist, which he was reluctantly forced to abandon because it was difficult to stage without being arrested. Then he happened upon Anarchist, which he was required to look up in the biggest dictionary at the British Library because he feared it wasn’t a real word. The rest is history.

The Brothers Kalashnikov

The great grandson of Russian literary giant Fyodor Dostoyevsky was determined to make something of himself, but was hampered by a lack of talent and charisma. What he did have was a famous name (albeit with the first part corrected to Theodore). But how could he take his great grandfather’s story into the late 20th century without losing something? Turning it into an epic struggle within a family of arms dealers, Theo slogged the lonely round of publishers without success. He died, bitter and broken, in the arms of his dachshund in 1994.


Hey mister, the barrel’s bent. A rare early publicity poster for The Brothers Kalashnikov


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