Stieg Larsson publishes from beyond

June 15, 2010 |

The recent report in the Age that two science fiction stories by Stieg Larsson have been discovered. The Swedish National Library will now decide whether they will be made public.

Retrieval of famous author’s earlier burnt offerings are quite common practice.  Whether it is a good practice is another thing.  When James Elroy became a minor celebrity with LA Confidential his publishers re-badged and released Brown’s Requiem and then  Silent Terror which was renamed Killer on the Road.  And now everything he produces is rushed into print.  The problem is the latest material is virtually unreadable.  The Cold Six Thousand is a rush of phrases wandering the pages looking for verbs. Dan Browns’ earlier detritus was re released once the Da Vinci Code took off and became the phenomena it is (a great story written very badly).

Where matters get tricky, ethically speaking, is where the author has died and his or her unpublished or unfinished works are found.  The temptation is to mine the rich seam. Salinger, he of the Catcher in the Rye, apparently had a safe full of unpublished manuscripts which were the stuff of literary gossip for years before his death.  He has died and the library stacks are not groaning under the weight of his posthumous offerings.  Let’s hope it stays that way. A writer should enjoy sufficient respect to have their creative wishes accepted.  A manuscript can be nothing more than a poor first draft.  Hemingway said the first draft of anything is rubbish (actually in terms stronger).  It can also be better than the published version.  The point is that most unpublished manuscripts are that way for a reason, especially for the established authors.  Cashing in on a writer’s legacy is an appalling breach of trust. But there is a real issue where there is a genuine offering by an author who, for prosaic reasons, didn’t submit a manuscript for publication.  That is where things become complicated.

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