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Naipaul in dustbin: Publishing world uncovered

Booker Prize winners of the '70s - including Naipaul's novel - were rejected by about 20 publishers.

books Updated: Jan 03, 2006 18:24 IST

It is the British publishing world uncovered: a newspaper's exposé has revealed that two Booker Prize-winning works, including one by Nobel laureate Sir V.S. Naipaul, were rejected when sent last month to publishers and agents as works of aspiring authors.

"The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent," reported the newspaper.

Typed manuscripts of the opening chapters of Naipaul's In a Free State (the 1971 Booker winner) and of Holiday by Stanley Middleton (the 1974 booker co-winner) were sent to 20 publishers and agents.

"None appears to have recognised them as Booker Prize winners from the 1970s that were lauded as British novel-writing at its best. Of the replies, all but one were rejections.

"Only Barbara Levy, a London literary agent, expressed an interest, and that was for Middleton's novel.

"She was unimpressed by Naipaul's book. She wrote: 'We . . . thought it was quite original. In the end though I'm afraid we just weren't quite enthusiastic enough to be able to offer to take things further.'"

Critics say the publishing industry has become obsessed with celebrity authors and "bright marketable young things" at the expense of serious writers.

Doris Lessing, the author who was once rejected by her own publishers when she submitted a novel under a pseudonym, told the newspaper: "I'm astounded as Naipaul is an absolutely wonderful writer."

The Nobel laureate of the Indian origin, however, was not exactly shocked. Naipaul, 73, said the "world had moved on" since he wrote the novel.

"To see that something is well-written and appetisingly written takes a lot of talent and there is not a great deal of that around," he was quoted as saying.

"With all the other forms of entertainment today there are very few people around who would understand what a good paragraph is."

Middleton, 86, said: "People don't seem to know what a good novel is nowadays," he said.

First Published: Jan 02, 2006 14:23 IST