Telling Tales, By Melissa Katsoulis
Sunday 08 November 2009
Melissa Katsoulis's entertaining account of literary hoaxes from the ancient world to the present day covers all three main kinds of hoax: the "genuine" hoax, that is to say the hoax that was never intended to be discovered (the Hitler diaries, the Ossian poems); the mock hoax, where a writer adopts a persona to create a new literary voice, such as James Norman Hall's invention of the 10-year-old poet Fern Gravel; and, most deliciously of all, the entrapment hoax, perpetrated to make a fool of a specific target.
Among the latter are the Ern Malley poems, which took the Australian literary world by storm in the 1930s; Alan Sokal's placing of an essay full of scientific-sounding gibberish with the postmodern cultural-studies journal Social Text to expose the intellectual pretensions of the "pomo" crowd; and Bevis Hiller's stupendous hoax on his rival, Betjeman biographer AN Wilson, inveigling him into publishing a spurious love letter which acrostically spelt out "AN Wilson is a shit."
The book could have been better proof-read (neither Katsoulis nor her editor knows what "enervated" means) but apart from that, it's a joy to read.
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