O how I love a good literary scandal. It’s indecent of me, I know. But I’ll never forget my jubilant dance around the Port Douglas newsagency on the morning the Courier Mail broke the news that the so-called Helen Demidenko’s vile, amateurish and virulently anti-Semitic The Hand That Signed the Paper was not, after all, a semi-biographical masterpiece by a young woman of Ukrainian descent who confirmed her ancestry by turning up to collect her many awards in a relentless array of peasant blouses.
No. It was a vile, amateurish and virulently anti-Semitic piece of crap by the daughter of an English taxi driver called Darville.
Weeks passed before a few writers realised that the few good passages in the book seemed familiar – because they’d been lifted from elsewhere. Further evidence of incompetence. If you’re going to knock off someone’s work in Australia, don’t pick on Thomas Kenneally – choose an author nobody’s ever read. She kept at it, too, though why any editor in Australia ever trusted her again, I don’t know. She’s not even very good. Not to mention the taste in clothes.
Loved the Norma Khouri scandal too. At last a publisher took the view that misrepresentation of yourself and your text is a contract breach. The moral: never trust anyone in a peasant blouse.
Poor old Random House. Now it’s happened again.
The Smoking Gun has published the comprehensive results of a six week investigation into the “memoir” of James Frey, A Million Little Pieces. In it, Frey apparently tells his true life story of alcoholism, drug addiction, crime and time in prison. But somehow he forgot to mention it was fiction.
Smoking Gun alleges that:
Police reports, court records, interviews with law enforcement personnel, and other sources have put the lie to many key sections of Frey’s book. The 36-year-old author, these documents and interviews show, wholly fabricated or wildly embellished details of his purported criminal career, jail terms, and status as an outlaw “wanted in three states.”
I haven’t read the book (too much vomiting for me). But Oprah Winfrey has. She found it so moving, she named it as her Book Club pick and catapulted it into the charts. Presumably this made him a very rich man – he’s sold almost as many copies in the US as Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
In the TV interview, Frey told Oprah:
“I was a bad guy. If I was gonna write a book that was true, and I was gonna write a book that was honest, then I was gonna have to write about myself in very, very negative ways.”
Oprah was misled. You can’t blame her, though some commentators have. It’s clearly a very moving and popular book – but it’s not true. Doubleday/Random House are standing by their man for now. But I wouldn’t want to be the person who answers the phone when Oprah calls.
New York literary agent and blogger, Miss Snark, is interesting on the matter. “We knew,” she admitted today. “We all knew. And no-one did anything.”
Meanwhile, the New York Times, which knows the feeling only too well, says there’s more scandal to follow.