The Novelist of Some Repute
By Simon Barget
With thanks to Big Buddy
A man frequents a book group in the burgeoning hope that he’ll pluck up the courage to suggest to the group that they read out excerpts from his great unpublished novel and as a consequence receive praise and the approval of the membership.
The man’s sense of self is tied to all people’s and hence the members’ views of him as a writer.
Unbeknownst to the man the novel has been published many years ago and well received, and so the man is already a novelist of some repute in the eyes of wider world, but not in the eyes of the members, because this publishing has been engineered by a maverick friend just for a lark and under a different name and title and with no photographic image of the author on the sleeve or media coverage linking his authorship to the novel.
The members, as members of the wider world, have read and esteemed the man’s novel, but as members of the book group, they don’t have a clue who the man is.
The man exudes this displaced and haughty quality implying he’s not quite cut from the same cloth as the other members. He feels the group doesn’t give him the respect he’s rightfully owed. He gets frustrated and resentful and this usually resolves itself into an emotion akin to simple sadness. He assumes the reason for the lack of interest in his feedback is that he is not yet known as the novelist of some repute, and the more he is faced with this notion, the more caught up he becomes and tries to convince himself that he is worthy, that he should share his great unpublished novel, or; on the contrary, tells himself he must be no good and it would be better for him to drop the notion once and for all.
Little does the man realise that his impact in the group has very little to do with repute but more to do with behaviour and how he interacts with the people in any given moment. They notice his tendency to prolonged periods of disengagement which makes them feel uncomfortable and less inclined to engage with him back. Every week the man digs himself further into a rut.
After some years the group decides what it will read for the next meeting and this turns out to be this man’s great ‘unpublished’ novel. Some of the reactions convey bemusement or the conspicuous way in which people acknowledge the telling of an in-joke, i.e. that they are in on it, that others present should understand that they are, and that they fully understand that those others are in on it too like they are. There is a stir. Those who have already read it disquisition at length on why they are happy to give it a second look. The novelist of some repute doesn’t know the book but goes along with the group consensus.
The man is incredulous and unable to fathom how it has come to pass that he is holding his own book in a real cover with real highly commendatory sales-driven review blurb. When he gets the book and opens it he can’t understand how he is holding his own book in a real cover with genuine, italicised highly-commendatory, sales-driven review blurb. He can’t understand how he hasn’t come across it on the internet or in local bookshops. What kind of practical joke has been perpetrated? He flicks to p.218 and it’s still his novel. The end is his ending, what he wrote. Has another author stolen his manuscript?
He tries hard to curb the sweltering excitement that he shall finally receive the recognition he deserves. He is prepared for any sort of leftfield explanation as to how the novel came to be published under another name. No family or friend has been informed of the curious circumstance.
He shuffles in to the pub’s basement room. A full house. Rustling and chit-chat before settling into their seats. A slightly heightened sense of seriousness, if the novelist of some repute’s perception is not awry.
Someone pipes up. Someone else. The group is unusually animated. Most people find the novel pleasing in the privacy of their own home, though something impels them to say less than praiseworthy things about the author himself who they judge to be self-involved and unempathic. The whole conversation turns towards the insularity of the author and away from the greatness of the novel itself. One long-serving female member calls him out as a narcissist and probably even a psychopath saying she wouldn’t want to spend one moment in the same room let alone a whole evening. He (the author) fails to evince normal human feelings. The group’s reaction acknowledges the harshness but also veracity of the view; something they’d sort of felt but not clearly thought or expressed like she had. The general consensus is, yes, they know that book received quite a wide readership and so on, but that don’t feel they could ever like the author on a personal level.
In this way the members end up stating their honest feelings about the novelist to his face without realising that they are doing so, that which they would never have done without the curious circumstance of the maverick publishing.
The novelist of some repute tries to say something about his own novel and motivations qua author, defending himself as a merit-worthy human being, but it is too late and he is roundly ignored. And so he doesn’t manage to tell them who he is. And he doesn’t until he dies.
But he tells himself: if they only knew, if they only knew. But had they known, they would have assumed that he knew that they knew; and they would not have mentioned his novel or writing for fear of saying something remiss to a novelist of some repute.