Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Funny I mentioned that

Only yesterday I drew attention to the large sales in the UK which are generated by non-fiction books about people having a thoroughly miserable time. One of the books mentioned was Don't Ever Tell, by Kathy O'Beirne.

Kathy O'Beirne's book is an autobiography, and it describes how she was beaten by her father and sexually abused by two boys from the age of 5 before being sent away to an institution. She claims that at the age of 10 she was repeatedly raped by a priest and whipped by nuns. Later she was forced to take drugs in a mental institution.

All of this happened in Ireland, of course, in case you're in any doubt. And in Ireland the book is titled Kathy’s Story: a Childhood Hell in the Magdalene Laundries.

Don't Ever Tell has so far shifted 350,000 copies, which is a huge total in the UK market. There are 15 readers' reviews on Amazon, and they all give it five stars. But there is, it seems, a small problem.

Today's Times reports that doubts have been expressed, shall we say, as to whether the story is entirely accurate. The first organisation to challenge the account was the Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, one of four religious orders which ran the Magdalene laundries (institutions for young women who were seen to be in moral danger). The sisters said that they invited an independent archivist to study their files after nobody could remember Kathy O’Beirne. And no record has turned up of her actually being in such an institution.

Now, says the Times, her own family is about to dispute her story. Five of her brothers and sisters plan to hold a press conference in Dublin today. O’Beirne’s older brother, Oliver, 52, has told an Irish newspaper: 'I read the book and I can’t figure out where she is coming from. My father was a good man. There are nine kids in the family and she is the only one who has any stories of abuse.' Adding that she did not have a good relationship with her family, he said: 'I think she needs help.'

Hmm? What's that I hear you say? Frey? James Frey?

Never heard of him.

7 comments:

Lazygal said...

I'll see you one Frey and raise a David Pelzer.

Caroline said...

But won't this just up sales even more? Or perhaps I am becoming cynical ...

Anastasia said...

I was surprised the other day when I still saw Frey's book on a shelf in a bookstore here.

When Random House (Australian) purchased the rights to Forbidden Love (Norma Khouri) they didn't really look into it, it appears that publisher's don't bother and then they print the book, and the crap hits the fan because it's a hoax.

Two other novels here that were like that were Helen 'Demidenko' Darville's The Hand that Wrote the Paper which one the Miles Franklin prize, and was proven to be a hoax (it was marketed on the basis of it being non fiction), and more recently My Place by Sally Morgan (this was a book that was in the school curriculum for many years, not sure if it's still on it after the scandal), whereby Morgan made claims that her grandmother was raped. The ironic thing about this was that when she made the claim (fifteen to twenty years ago in the novel) DNA testing wasn't available, and now it is, the family she mentioned challenged her to take a DNA test to prove that she is related to them, to prove that their family patriarch was a 'rapist', but Morgan went into hiding. So this novel has gone from being a breakthrough Aboriginal/indigenous novel, to being highly questionable, and highly embarrassing in that, once again, publisher's don't delve into the projects they're publishing as non fiction.

I don't think sales are increased when a non fictional novel is revealed to be a hoax. The magic is gone, that's it and the author is forever tarnished.

Emil Michelle said...

I think it does increase sales, at least initially. The old adage is: there's no such thing as bad publicity. I believe there may be some truth in that one. In fact, many times I wonder if much of this is just another example of PR stunts -- talk about cynical!

Adrian Weston said...

Oh dear - A Milliion Little Pieces? I was very interested to read that he had originally submitted the book as a novel, without success, and then re-presented it as "truth". Tricky, tricky. I guess the whole thing hinges around what is being written about - my client, the author Rana Husseini, was instrumental in exposing Norma Khouri's book as fake and rightly so I say (not just because she is my client). The issue there is it is instrumental in a huge set of cultural issues, calls for change within Middle Eastern Society etc - but then just a personal sob story? Does it harm? Sometimes... There's the current book-to-blog story of the homeless person - is it genuine or is it not? That one I don't care about - but I might if I worked professionally with the homeless. Likewise Belle du Jour.... a bit of titillation - does it harm? I don't know - but I do have this sense that it is in marketing that the problem lies. Going back to Frey, the revelations don't seem to have damaged his sales and there's been no suggestion that the book be withdrawn... whereas Khouri was pulped. A difference of degree, I guess, and also was the publisher being misled. In the case of Khouri the publisher was clearly conned - the continued presence of Frey on the shelves suggests the publisher was involved ... or complicit... maybe - I wouldn't like to say, but .... maybe the whole thing of public personae needs to be revived: if no one is who they seem, well that makes it easier. I think of Tom Waits, when asked by an audience member to sing more loudly he questioned it "Loudlly? I haven't hollered this loud since my baby brother was eaten by the pigs..." or may be he didn't. It's a great line either way

Anonymous said...

I don't suppose there is the remotest chance that she is kin to Kate O'Beirne, the American conservative chatterbox, and Kate's husband, who was political enforcer for the Paul Bremer regime in Iraq?

Elizabeth Baines said...

Adrian, I too was very struck to read that Frey's book was first offered as fiction (I've just posted on this), and I too think the key is probably in the marketing. Frey claims that publishers asked him 'How true is this?' It's hard to know what to believe of course, but I've been asked the very same question by agents/publishers about my fiction. We authors can feel very trapped by this need to know how much of an author's life is in their book, although it is of course a very human need... As you say, it's the issue of public personae that is at the crux of all this, too. As far as fiction writers are concerned, the very idea that anyone is who they seem to be is a pretty good joke, after all...