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Something borrowed, something blue

22 May 2006

The allegation of large-scale plagiarism has raised its ugly head in a too-good-to-be-true story of a young writer who appeared to be writing well rather too well for her age. To a hungry world looking for talented and good-looking young authors, Kaavya Viswanathan looked to like a publisher's dream. She was just about to come to the UK for a triumphant tour to mark publication of her first novel, enticingly titled How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, which had sold for $500,000 in the States. But, as the Independent on Sunday put it, her book turned out to be 'not so much chick-lit as nick-lit'.

So far, passages which appear to have been plagiarised from six other books have been discovered, including Salman Rushdie's Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Megan McCafferty's Sloppy Firsts.

After moving to Scotland from Madras at the age of three, Viswanathan started to write and her work already showed promise when she was a child. When she was twelve the family moved to the States and by the time she was sixteen she had already written the first 100 pages of a novel. At this point a well-known agent became involved and so did Alloy Entertainment, a book packaging firm which then played an unspecified role in finishing the book and producing the outline for the next, which would be part of the two-book deal eventually made with the publisher. It is not yet clear whether the plagiarism is the young author's or the book packagers', but the book has now been withdrawn.

You may ask why no-one suspected plagiarism earlier, but editors are a trusting (and perhaps not well-read) lot. Danuta Kean, book trade journalist commented: 'The pressure on editors to deliver heat-seekers is enormous. To criticise them for being willing to believe anything if a book looks like a bestseller is to misunderstand the culture of an industry that retains a touching belief in old-fashioned trust and integrity.'

The Australian author Peter Carey seems to be having a different kind of problem with the content of his latest novel, Theft: A Love Story. His furious ex-wife Alison Summers claims that the author's wife, i.e. her, has been portrayed as an 'alimony whore'. Carey denies it and says; 'to imagine it's all about me, that's a very reductive approach. It's a pitiful, ignorant, illiterate way to read fiction'.