I well remember, when I was a lad, that I held the view that when a thing has been done once, it's been... well, done. And that all repetitions and variations upon same, thereafter, are worthless ripoffs and of no interest whatever.
But then, as the years went by, I noticed that this was not the case with the public at large. The public at large did not, perhaps, monitor books, movies, and theatre with quite the same obsessive scrutiny as myself. And I noticed that it took some time for ideas, characters, situations, and the like to become familiar. Often something would turn out to be a big hit at a point when I, for one, had grown weary of that particular genre/idea/concept.
For example. Somewhere around 1980, the general idea of feminism had surely (I thought) penetrated so deep in the general consciousness that everyone was conscious of its main tenets. But what happened? Along came crime writer Sara Paretsky with a female private eye called V.I. Warshawski -- a lead character who had built into her, as far as I was concerned, every obvious feminist characteristic and cliche that you could think of, and then some.
And what was the critical and reader response? Answer, this whole concept was hailed as ground-breaking, original, exciting, new, and all like that. ('[Paretsky] has created a scrappy, entertaining, idiosyncratic fictional character who is a woman, so hooray for her!' San Jose Mercury-News.)
Not that I begrudged Sara Paretsky her success; but it did surprise me, because I had thought that the ideas built into her character would be regarded as stale and old hat. Furthermore, the idea of a female detective was hardly new. There had been many others, and in 1979 I myself had written a stage play about an elderly lady detective who turned out to be more Mike Hammer than Miss Marple.
I mention all this because while you and I, in our sophisticated ways, may imagine that the concept of a novel about codes in the art world is just so last year that no one in their right mind would read another one, much less write one or publish it. But I wonder. We have already seen that Javier Sierra had a huge hit in Spain with The Secret Supper, and now comes news of a similar sort of book in Brazil.
Today (10 May 2006) is the official publication date for Leandro Muller's The Aleijadinho Code (thanks to Lucas Martinho for the tip-off.) This is a novel in which 'the strange death of an arts professor takes an investigator to uncover a surprising plot involving history, art, scholars and a mystery that was never meant to be revealed.'
Aleijadinho, by the way, was a crippled sculptor, 1730-1814, who took 22 years to complete the 12 life-sized figures of Prophets which stand in front of the Basilica Bom Jesus de Matosinho in Congonhas, Minas Gerais.
Will this novel sell big in its native Brazil? The publisher claims that 'the book is causing a lot of talkback online. On message boards and forums all over the internet, Brazilians are discussing the book and its plot.' But then he would say that, wouldn't he? (Copyright Mandy Rice Davies.)
Will any English-speaking agents or publishers take the trouble to check out The Aleijadinho Code? Will the book work in translation? Will it get on to the NYT bestsellers list? Will we ever see the movie?
Whichever, you read it here first.