1. The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
John Steinbeck’s retelling of the Arthurian legend, based on the Winchester Manuscript text of Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur… The book was left unfinished at his death, and ends with the death of chivalry in Arthur’s purest knight, Lancelot of the Lake.
The story describes the bizarre wanderings of a sixteen-year-old European emigrant named Karl Roßmann in the United States, who was forced to go to New York to escape the scandal of his seduction by a housemaid… Kafka broke off his work on this novel with unexpected suddenness. It remained unfinished.
3. Answered Prayers
In May 1971, on The Dick Cavett Show, Capote referred to the book as his “posthumous novel”, explaining, “either I’m going to kill it, or it’s going to kill me”.
4. The Assassination Bureau, Ltd.
London wrote 20,000 words on the novel before he gave it up, saying he could not find a logical way to conclude it. He died in 1916, leaving the book unfinished.
5. Billy Budd
The plot follows Billy Budd, a seaman impressed into service aboard HMS Bellipotent in the year 1797. [It was] left unfinished at his death in 1891 and not published until 1924.
6. The Castle
In it a protagonist, known only as K., struggles to gain access to the mysterious authorities of a castle who govern the village for unknown reasons. Kafka died before finishing the work.
7. The Dark Tower
[The Dark Tower] appears to be an unfinished sequel to the science fiction novel, Out of the Silent Planet. The story deals with an early rendition of interdimensional travel.
8. The First Man
The incomplete manuscript of The First Man, the autobiographical novel Camus was working on at the time of his death, was found in the mud at the accident site. Camus’ daughter, Catherine Camus, later transcribed the handwritten manuscript to type press, and published the book in 1995.
9. The Journal of Julius Rodman
Six installments of the novel were published in Burton’s Gentleman’s Magazine. At the time, Poe was a contributing editor of the journal. He was fired from the job and refused to continue the novel.
10. The Love of the Last Tycoon
The novel, inspired by the life of film producer Irving Thalberg, was unfinished and in rough form at the time of Fitzgerald’s death at age 44. The extant seventeen chapters of the thirty-one planned chapters were reassembled in 1993 by Bruccoli according to the author’s notes.
11. The Mysterious Stranger
Twain wrote multiple versions of the story, each unfinished and involving the character of “Satan”. The first substantial version is commonly referred to as The Chronicle of Young Satan and tells of the adventures of Satan, the sinless nephew of the biblical Satan, in an Austrian village in the Middle Ages. The story ends abruptly in the middle of a scene involving Satan entertaining a prince in India,suggesting Twain died before he finished writing it.
12. The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Though the novel is named after the character Edwin Drood, the story focuses on Drood’s uncle, choirmaster John Jasper, who is in love with his pupil, Rosa Bud. The novel was unfinished at the time of Dickens’ death and his ending for it remains unknown.
13. The Notion Club Papers
An abandoned novel by J. R. R. Tolkien, written during 1945 and published posthumously in Sauron Defeated, the 9th volume of The History of Middle-earth. It is a space/time/dream travel story, written at the same time as The Lord of the Rings was being developed.
14. The Plant
King released The Plant directly via his website, unencrypted and in installments. People could pay a one-dollar fee for each installment using the honor system. The last installment was published on December 18, 2000. The book has yet to be completed.
Austen was seriously ill when she wrote the opening chapters of Sanditon; she had less than six months to live. Because Austen completed setting the scene for Sanditon, it has been a favorite of “continuators” - later writers who try to complete the novel within Austen’s vision while emulating her style.
David Foster Wallace isn’t as famous (yet) as the others on this list, but his unfinished “The Pale King” is one of the best books I’ve ever read. His notes suggest that, had he published it, it would have been disjointed and ambiguous anyway, like the (non-) ending of his “Infinite Jest.” An entertaining and deep novel about soul-crushing tedium and the heroism therein.
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An author died before finishing his book called “Suspense.”The author was writing it in 1925 when he died leaving it unfinished. The irony is that his readers will be forever in suspense with the story, never able to complete it.
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