Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

No 4371

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

No 4371

Article excerpt

Set by Jersey

We asked for reviews of a novel that the reviewer erroneously thinks was ghostwritten.

This week's winners

It was strange how many of you didn't get it. "Ghostwritten" means written by a "ghost". The reviewer's critique should have focused on that. We didn't ask you to criticise a book based on an ignorance of the author. Here are three examples: "It is a pity that Ms Waugh did not go to school where they taught Classics properly/'from John Kirkaldy ("Decline and Fall"); "It is the absence of what one expects from a [Malcolm Bradbury] novel--no space rockets, interplanetary travel or Martians," from CJ Gleed ("The History Man"); "We understand Mr Beckett is best known for his skills as a footballer and for his marriage to an ex-member of a female singing group, "from Brian Allgar ("How It Is"). All of these were premised on the reviewers' mistakes regarding the author: that Waugh is female; that Malcolm Bradbury is Ray Bradbury; that "Mr Beckett" is "Mr Beckham". A good idea and maybe we'll set it another time. Hon menshes to Bill Greenwell and G Ewing. The winners get 25 [pounds sterling] each, with the extra fiver going to GM Davis.

A real phoney

It is no secret that even well-regarded authors sometimes offload the hard labour of authorship on to a reliable hack who will "take the cash and let the credit go". There are ghostwriters who are, among a restricted circle, themselves well regarded. Whoever wrote The Catcher in the Rye (the problems begin with the stupid title) is surely not one of them.

He has missed every trick in the book. Each time the opportunity for a strong climax arises--encounters with a gay teacher and a prostitute, for example--drama is sabotaged by a lackadaisical dribbling-away of tension and focus. The narrator is a near-affectless adolescent who, in a city that is as dynamic as New York, interests himself only in some ducks. The absence of colour, rhythm, character and anything resembling a narrative arc suggests that J D Salinger should change his ghost or revert to a DIY work ethic.

G.M. Davis

Weird science

Why did Mary Shelley ask someone to write the lurid novel Frankenstein under her name? I am certain that it was not the lady's work, given her heritage (note the serious output of her mother, the philosopher and feminist Mary Wollstonecraft). Whoever it was clearly did not have a scientific mind, as the assembly and reviving of the grotesque body is far from realistic. …

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