The Times sent out Naipaul’s In A Free State to twenty agents and publishers, confident, they said tongue-in-cheek, that “the special qualities of such timeless prose” would be recognised by today’s publishers. Given that it is one of his better novels, The Times was running a fairly large risk that some reader, however low on the totem pole, would have recognised the presence of a Nobel Prize winning writer. But Naipaul’s book, and Stanley Middleton’s 1974 Booker winner, Holiday, were almost universally rejected.
“Having considered your material,” wrote a submissions department reader, “we do not feel, we are sorry to say, sufficiently enthusiastic or confident about it.”
Hmmm. Somewhat different from the usual reception publishers accord to Naipaul’s works; here’s what Knopf’s Sonny Mehta had to say shortly before Half a Life was published: “We at Knopf are immensely proud to be his publisher,’ he said in a statement. ‘As a master of English prose, Naipaul has no peer. As a visionary — dealing in countless ways with themes of alienation, emigration, the spell of the past, colonialism, and the struggles of the Third World — his work has a resonance and portent more relevant than ever before to the world in which we live.”
I’m going to skip the rant about the sad state of publishing today, it’s kind of obvious.
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