So, one of my favourite mainstream fiction writers, Jeffrey Archer (thank god he continues to live and write prolifically) is out with part one (of five parts) of what he described last year to me as the ‘Clifton Chronicles’. Is it different from his other books, particularly the sagas he is so famous for? NO. In fact, it revisits the tenets that make Archers sagas what they are: classic and true to their eternal premise that there exist connections between individuals.
1. These would most likely be men separated at birth, sharing parents, having some sort of birth mix-up – you get the point. These individuals grow up in separate conditions – mostly a strong economical divide – the fortunes of one are juxtaposed against the nurture-disadavantages of the other. While one leads a blessed life, the other has to struggle for everything.
2. Of course, the author gently nudges the reader into empathy for the more disadvantaged person – he remains Archer’s eternal hero, but, most importantly, the one with the advantage is also dealt with lovingly. He is generally a nice guy – you are unable to fault him for the fortunes of birth, and he often, wittingly or unwittingly, comes to the aid of his potential future nemesis.
3. They lead parallel lives, often mirroring actions in their own ways, both destined for success and chalking their path as they deem fit until they meet towards a dramatic finale. Archer doesn’t comment on right or wrong, rather he believes that success is paramount, along with being a good human being. His characters often set their own rules, are not always moral, but they are unable to alienate the audience in these minor misdemeanours because they remain good at heart. (Aside: Is this what Archer tries to prove about himself?)
4. Archer appears to have a strong belief in destiny – so much so that he could be Indian in his ideology. (Think astrology that believes that every individual has a path charted out, and when individuals’ paths cross, there is a greater meaning behind it.) Each of his characters is simply living out their destiny to the fullest – and incidents unfold along the way, making their lives interesting, because of the people they are. Other characters that come in to help/ aid/ or desist are mere catalysts in the greater purpose these individuals are meant to serve.
5. Archer’s hero is the quintessential hero that is living to fulfil his destiny through a greatness that lies dormant within him, that needs to be tapped, explored and unleashed. His is not the anti-hero of contemporary times; and the fact that we still like and want more of his hero, proves that we believe in the bigger hero over the popularised anti-hero.
6. His contemporary from the same country, Barbara Taylor Bradford was a master storyteller of sagas – think the one starting with Woman of Substance. The power of her story remains eternal, unfortunately, she no longer writes (I am quite certain a ghost writer writers under her name – churning out weak, insipid, badly written romance novels). I can only hope Archer doesn’t go the same route. While his story-telling skills remain as powerful, I do feel that his language has been toned down and made simpler than his older sagas. I wonder why?
7. The circumstances of his novels’ mise-en-scene remain the same: juxtaposed against the World Wars, dealing with England and no further than America or Australia, possibly areas that Archer knows well and understands best. This time around though, he takes his sagas into contemporary time: the Clifton Chronicles will span decades and enter the contemporary age – this is what will set it apart and I can’t wait to see how he deals with placing characters in a far newer age and era of technology, quite out of his usual comfort zone.
8. Even though Archer’s Clifton Chronicles, starting with Only Time Will Tell, remains Archeresque to the point where they offer nothing new, except a recycled version of his previous sagas, his stories are still knowingly and willingly consumed with as much interest because these sagas work as strong tales. The foundation that every Archer saga shares remains eternal and eminently readable. I am surprised that no movies have been made on any of his sagas. I only wish his publishers and he would not tantalise the readers with breaking the story into five parts and releasing them so far apart from each other – with no clue when the next installment is even due.