Where to begin an analysis, a commentary, or even just an incredulous expostulation in response to this?

For
those who haven’t already read the article, here’s the cartoon version: in imitation of a
similar British hoax involving VS Naipaul, someone from The Australian
– possibly Jennifer Sexton, author of the article, who does not say
who set this sting up – sent Chapter Three of Patrick White’s The Eye of the Storm to twelve Australian publishers and agents, changing the names of the characters, re-titling the novel The Eye of the Cyclone
(oh, dear; surely they could have been a bit witty about it, at least)
and submitting the MS under a name manifestly not a real one, but an
anagram of PATRICK WHITE.

(‘Wraith Picket’, forsooth; why didn’t they just call him Keith Crapwit and be done with it?)

Two
publishers/agents have not yet replied, after three months, and the
other ten all turned it down. Some suggested that St Patrick should
read David Lodge’s How-To book, and others that he should join a
writers’ centre. (He would have abominated how-to books and writers’ centres.)

The
chapter in question was one of the least typical bits, and I’m sorry to
say probably one of the least successful bits, of White’s writing that
I can think of, short of his first two novels Happy Valley and The Living and the Dead, in which he was merely clearing his throat.

The
offending chapter is smack in the middle of the action, jumps around
chronologically, and, most atypically for White, is pretty much all
narrated in free indirect discourse, reflecting the thought processes
of the deeply awful character and the kind of language he would use.

I can’t work out which is the worst:

(a)
the bad faith of the entrapment, the smugness of its aftermath, and the
shabby (and incoherent, as Jeff Sparrow points out in this excellent piece) reactionary agenda behind the exercise,

(b)
the failure of the agents and publishers’ readers who rejected the
chapter to recognise either the actual novel or, at the very least,
White’s unique, highly spottable style, and the incontrovertible
evidence it provides that people getting jobs in Australian publishing
houses have clearly not seen fit to make it their business to read a
little Australian writing, or

(c) the unambiguously, unashamedly and exclusively commercial agenda behind some of the rejections.

I
could just cry. And I would, if this episode were not, in its own toxic
way, so funny. Not one person or organisation comes out of this
particularly well, except perhaps Michael Heyward from Text (no
surprises there; Heyward has been one of the class acts of Australian
publishing for twenty years), who expressed concern that it had
happened and the opinion that publishers needed to be kept on their
toes – unlike everyone else quoted, who toughed it out so brazenly
they would have made Pats and Eddie proud.

And maybe Patrick White himself, of course. And he, poor old poppet, is past caring. Or so one hopes.

For publishers’ reactions, click here.

Peter Fray

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