The design of the new cover for my novel is out. It takes time to design a cover and book covers are important. We decided to avoid putting the ship on the front page because there are already a lot of books about the Empress of Ireland disaster and this story is centered on the aftermath of the sinking.
Anyway I wanted this week to discuss a rather sensitive point. I recently started reading a novel by Hanya Yanagihara: “The People in the Trees”. The Wall Street journal calls it “a standout novel…thrilling.” “Fascinating and multilayered”, says the Boston Globe. “Exhaustingly inventive”, says the New York Times Book Review.
My take after reading about half of the book is that it is “a total fraud, abusive of readers’ trust, and certainly exhausting.” It is not often that I really hate a work of fiction, but the author of this novel is totally dishonest. This is not in any way a true story, although everything about it tries to convince you it is.
The person of the renowned immunologist Dr Abraham Norton Perina is totally fictional. His abuse of children is fictional. I read that the character is in part inspired by Daniel Carleton Gajdusek who was revered in the scientific community before being accused of child molestation.
So everything about this story is fictional. There is no kernel of truth to any of it. The people he discovers on the Micronesian island are fictional. The words spoken by the islanders are invented even though the author provides translations in the absurd footnotes to the novel.
It is not often you will see footnotes in a Michael Connelly or John Grisham novel. Footnotes are used in non-fiction to provide additional information for the reader. Why not add a bibliography while you are at it with a fictional list of reference works. It’s totally nuts to put footnotes in a novel.
The author puts footnotes throughout the novel with references to people who don’t exist with detailed description of their lives. There is even an epilogue at the end about the fictional characters in the novel. It’s astounding to see such a flagrant use of non-fictional story telling devices in an entirely fictional novel.
After about ten footnotes about Dr. Perina’s fake colleagues and family members, I gave up. The book no longer had any credibility either as fiction or non-fiction. It was a bit like reading a Walmart flyer and just about as interesting.
Good novelists don’t rattle on about incidental events and characters who have no bearing on the fictional story that one intends to tell. It simply kills reader interest. The author would have better succeeded by telling a story based partially on fact, not by inventing some kind of “Jurassic Park” tale.
Furthermore the cover photograph of the book looks like a real photograph, but who is the man in photograph. Is it Dr. Perina or some budding artist in NYC? How does a respected publisher like Doubleday publish crap like this? Am I the only one out there who was ticked off by this fake news novel.
A lot of the comments from readers show that they believed Dr Norton was a real person so the author’s attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of readers was successful, but fakery like this doesn’t make a work of art.
Don’t established publishers have any set of values today. Don’t they spend any time editing their books. The author of “The People in the Trees” could have succeeded in producing a decent novel, if she had cut a hundred pages or more, and the footnotes and references to incidental characters. Authors need to respect their readers and obviously this first timer hasn’t got a clue as to what that means.
Sorry for my weekly rant, but some things need to be said. Next week we’ll talk about my extraordinary new “standout” novel which is “fascinating and multilayered” and “exhaustingly inventive”. Sounds good, doesn’t it.
And with this I wish you all a very pleasant week.