deathmatch: ian vs. kaavya

Ian McEwan, venerated author and reigning king of the highfalutin end of the British literary scene, has been accused of lifting passages from the memoir of Lucilla Andrews for inclusion in his good-god-everyone-is-going-swoony-over-this novel Atonement.*

Wait - what's that I hear? Why it's an echo from plagiarisms past! The news-cycle ghost of Kaavya Viswanathan, disgraced bajillionaire child-author, pissy that McEwan's receiving less scathingly caustic treatment for his accused literary cheating. (Please note that Kaavya is not actually speaking up here, I am merely dragging her out of her self- and other-imposed obscurity, mostly because I am a bastard.)

Shall we pit them against each other? Why yes! Let's! (read that in a gleeful voice, please)

Ian McEwan

"one of Britain's best-known and most lauded authors" - the new york times

number of books written
like, a million. okay, 19.

number accused of incorporating plagiarism
2: the current tempest in a teapot, as well as his first novel, The Cement Garden, for a percentage total of 10.5.

won the Booker prize for Amsterdam
won the Somerset Maugham prize for Last Rites

adjective commonly used to describe accused behavior
"discourteous" - used by both Andrews' agent and some British journalist

who was plagiarized
Lucilla Andrews, WWII nurse and romance author, who died a few months ago and whose memoir (from which the lines are lifted) has been out of print for nearly a decade.

severity of plagiarism
minor. some medically descriptive passages:
“In the way of medical treatments, she had already dabbed gentian violet on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on a cut and painted lead lotion on a bruise.”
“Our ‘nursing’ seldom involved more than dabbing gentian violent on ringworm, aquaflavine emulsion on cuts and scratches, lead lotion on bruises and sprains.”

how the plagiarized author feels
she's dead. but people like her literary agent and other such folks figure she wouldn't really have cared.
For example: “I think it’s quite clear that her response was ‘I don’t give a damn.’ ” - said by the chairwoman of Britain's Romantic Novelist Association (to which i now crave membership)

preemptive head-nods given by McEwan to the plagiarized author
mentioned as a research source in the acknowledgments of the book, as well as cited as an inspiration in radio interviews.

authorial response to accusations of plagiarism:
pointing out that, yo, everyone, he ADMITTED to using her book as a source. and, hello, the lifted passages are ridiculously minor.
Kaavya Viswanathan

pretty much any combination of the words and phrases "harvard sophomore" "obscenely overpaid" "wunderkind" "book packaging" and "nauseatingly obnoxious." (kind of like joshua foer, but sub in "yale" for "harvard.")

number of books written
though her ludicrously lucrative book deal was actually for two novels. i have a feeling the second has been shelved. just a hunch.

number accused of incorporating plagiarism
mathtime: that's 100%

"whoa, she's young!"
the hatred and schadenfreude of a whole huge massive lot of people. (note: not officially an award)

adjective commonly used to describe accused behavior
it's a tie among "irresponsible" and "reprehensible" and "hilariously poorly-handled"

who was plagiarized
Megan McCafferty, author of a series of young-adult chick-lit novels which are still in print and quite popular.

severity of plagiarism
severe. whole paragraphs. many many. see my earlier post (linked above) for some enumeration.

how the plagiarized author feels
pissed as shit. understandably. and she made some gleefully bitter comments.

preemptive head-nods given by Viswanathan to the plagiarized author

authorial response to accusations of plagiarism:
ex post plagiarismo, Viswanathan admitted to having "read and loved" McCafferty's books, and pulled the whole "i have an AMAZING memory!" card when saying that maybe some passages from McCafferty's books embedded themselves in her brilliant, amazing, juvenile-genius brain and spewed forth on the page. PLUS there was this gem of a passive-aggressive apology:

"I sincerely apologize to Megan McCafferty and to any who feel they have been misled by these unintentional errors on my part."

Winner? Hands-down, McEwan. This is on grounds of: the total number of words used in the titles of ALL his novels is: 21
the total number of words used in the title of Viswanathan's ONE novel: 11.

Word economy for the win.

*I hated it. Well I loved the first chapter. Then I hated everything else.


Kim Stagliano said...

Great post -- and how DID you get two columns into a blog, in color no less! Impressive.


helen said...

oh my god. it was actually incredibly hard. making the tops align is a matter of superhuman patience.

iglovett said...

dear helen,

first off, let me (re)-introduce myself. my name is ian lovett. I'm a senior at amherst college who should have graduated already and on-again-off-again boyfriend of one neda maghbouleh. according to neda, you and i have met. sadly, this meeting supposedly happened 3 years ago, the same day i met 9878798987 other friends of hers, so i don't remember you (or anyone else i met that day) specifically. sorry.

i any case, i have been a fan of your blog for quite a while now, and i'm glad to see you're back in the swing of things after that long hiatus. the mcewan v. visiwanathan post was particularly excellent.

however, there is one incredibly minor tendency in your writing that continues to bug me: your use of colons after verbs. the wonderful thing about the colon is that it can mean just about anything you want it to mean: it can signify an elaboration is forthcoming, or a list, or simply a restatement or explanation.

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition. so the sentencce "This is on grounds of: the total number of words used in the titles of ALL his novels is: 21" is actually stuck in some grammatical state of nature. (also, two colons in the same sentence just. looks. weird). if you eliminated the first colon altogether (it has no reason to be there), and left out the "is" after "novel" (as you do in the following sentence) that would solve the problem. or you could replace the colon with an ellipsis. but the ellipsis is lame, i know.

you write far too well to keep making this simple mistake. apologies if this is the stupidest, most annoying post you've ever gotten. my thesis is due in a week, i just finished a full draft, and now i have only editing left to do. so, naturally, i am editing writing for people who don't want/need my help instead of editing my own.



helen said...

my dear ian,

your comment is far from the stupidest, most annoying post i've ever gotten. on the contrary: your attention to the nuances of punctuation warms the cockles (or are cockles lifted?) of my sly little heart.

you're correct that there are restrictions on the usage of a colon; however, you're incorrect that they're defined by the role of the preceding word. if i remember correctly, according to CMS a colon cannot be used in the following instances:

1. in a list, when the antecedent clause comprises the first portion of what, when coupled with any item from the list, creates a full sentence.

2. when nominatively addressing an audience ("my dear companions"), in such times when the remarks following the address are greater than one sentence.

The former of these two is likely the one you're referring to as regards prepositions and verbs, since these sorts of lists in question tend to fill in either the predicate or the prepositional phrase of a sentence. So you're correct, yes, that my use of "on the grounds of:" is incorrect, since the list that follows (a one-item list, but a list nonetheless) relies upon its introducing clause to make sense.

my tendency to insert colons hither and thither, though, is not so much a manifestation of any lack of punctuational knowledge on my part; rather, it's simply a quirk of the tone of thought in which i blog. it's well documented that the internet is the grammatical equivalent of uncharted territory: run-on sentences, the disgusting habit of using "u" for "you," the TWOP-propagated elision of verbs of potentiality ("which? gross."), entire missives written sans capitalization, &c. in fact, perhaps the most exciting grammatical evolution engendered by the internet is an increasing acceptance of irregular - yet logical - punctuation, as illustrated here:

but you cannot use a colon anywhere you like, which is to say, a colon cannot directly follow a verb. or a preposition.

that second sentence really ought to be preceded by a comma, oughtn't it? but nonetheless the sentence fragment parses smoothly. never mind that the first comma ought to be a semicolon.

i suppose what i'm trying to say here is: half the time when i use colons incorrectly, i do it because i'm not thinking about the rules. the other half of the time? i don't care.

yours, warmly,