Friday, May 25, 2007

I’m a little late on this particular post. Jim Crace, the inventive British novelist, appeared May 14 at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. Crace was there to promote his fine new book The Pesthouse.

During the Q&A session, I asked Crace about the epigraphs to his books and why he did what he does. What he does is, well, the epigraphs to his books are fake. He makes them up. What makes this especially amusing is that some critics haven’t realized the imaginary nature of the epigraphs. They’ve cited the epigraphs in their reviews of Crace’s novels.

Book critics aren’t the only one who have fallen for Crace’s trickery. A representative of the Oxford Companion to English Literature called Crace a few years ago to update his biographical information in the next edition of that book. As they talked, Crace asked if the book would have an entry for the Greco-Roman historian Pycletius. Well no, the man said, would Crace like to write that entry? Certainly, Crace said.

Crace wrote the biography for Pycletius and submitted it. To his delight the entry – entirely fictitious – was published. As the Politics & Prose website reports, “The work was retrieved by an ever-alert and astute P&P staff member, and the entry for Crace's fictional 'Pycletius' on page 827 was read by him to the amused and slightly shocked crowd. One never knows what one will learn when attending a Politics & Prose author talk.”

In a similar vein, Crace’s book Useless America went on sale at a year ago – even though Crace has never written it. His publishers have since issued a limited print run of Useless America. It’s a small book – largely because there’s no text at all. You can read more about it at The Guardian.

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