Thursday, July 20, 2006

Coping with Rejection

Having completed your version of The Great American novel, you mail it off to your favorite publishers. You may be happy to receive a response like ..."it will take us three months to review this." After all, at least you got a response and against the other nine rejections this may not seem so bad. That is unless you happen to have won a Nobel prize for literature and are one of your country’s preeminent cultural icons; namely author Patrick White of Australia.

With apparently little else to do except embarrass a number of large Australian publishing houses, The Australian set out to prove that Patrick White couldn't get published in Australia today. The article doesn’t' really get that far but nevertheless all kinds of recriminations and navel gazing have erupted from the story. Some may recall that the UK Sunday Times conducted a similar "survey" using a title by V.S. Naipaul.

Since A Fringe of Leaves has been sitting on my parents bookshelf since publication, I thought I would look up what is said about White and his style. Here is a review of Fringe which suggests this may be a hard book to get into and understand. Words like complex and [un]pleasant are used to describe an allegorical story. Perhaps I will give this a go. Of course, White won the Nobel for his body of work, but here is a review of Eye of the Storm which is the book The Australian used for its "experiment".

Missing from the Australian article is any reference to the significant amount of new Australian publishing that these publishers are partially responsible for. Examples include, Tim Winton, Peter Carey, Shirley Hazzard and Andrew McGahan. (Even Bryce Courtney - for some anyway). In a weird way, I am not sure this scam could be tried in the US because I don't think the American public has a view on 'literary' heroes the way the UK, other European nations and Australia seem to.

Perhaps some in the US would get excited if under similar circumstances Portnoy's Complaint was rejected; I hate to say it but I think largely the story would disappear rapidly.

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