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O, A Presidential Novel sparks search for author

world Updated: Jan 21, 2011 01:16 IST

The language is not the sort we are used to hearing from Barack Obama. "Jesus Christ, do they expect you to be castrated by this fucking job?" the president barks after he has been caught on camera leering at the shapely curves of a young woman.

But then O, A Presidential Novel, is fiction, and the president it depicts - clearly Obama but referred to throughout its 353 pages only as O - is drawn with the benefit of artistic licence. The degree to which it is accurate depends on the credibility of its author, and that we cannot tell because he or she remains anonymous.

The question of who wrote O has become the Washington parlour game of the winter. Simon & Schuster, which publishes it next Tuesday, has said only it is "someone who has been in the room with Obama and knows this world intimately".

Rampant speculation has namechecked Rahm Emanuel (though he's a little busy running for mayor of Chicago), David Plouffe (has enough on his plate as Obama's new senior adviser) and the TV comedian Stephen Colbert. Ben Smith, a blogger at the Politico website, has diligently obtained denials from many potential culprits, which is in itself suspicious. So is he the author? "No. I'd be happy to take credit for it though - it's a fun read," Smith told the Guardian.

Inevitably, speculation has also focused on Joe Klein, who in 1996 was forced to out himself as the author of Primary Colors. The novels have obvious parallels: both were published anonymously, both revolve around a president in the middle of an election - Jack Stanton (Clinton) in 1992 and O (Obama) in the upcoming 2012 campaign. They both centre on a campaign aide, Henry Burton in Primary Colors and Cal Regan in O.

But there the similarities end. The two novels reflect the times in which they were written, and the nature of the presidents they portray. Not surprisingly, there is very little of the naughty-boy recklessness in O that Jack Stanton displayed in Primary Colors, in which the Clinton figure has an affair with his wife's hairdresser. The most badly behaved O gets in the novel is when he swears in public and that scene in which he ogles a woman in a crowd. In the book, the First Lady - unnamed but patently Michelle - takes umbrage.