JD Salinger publishes his first novel for 34 years

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The Independent Online
The scoop does not belong to Simon and Schuster, Random House or any other New York behemoth. Instead, for reasons as usual known only to himself, JD Salinger, that Howard Hughes of literary America, has chosen an obscure and tiny Virginia publishing house, Orchise Press, to issue his first book in 34 years. Or rather, reissue.

In truth, Hapworth 16, 1924 - only the fifth book to appear under the name of Jerome David Salinger - first appeared in the New Yorker magazine of 19 June 1965. It is a 20,000-word novella, the hyper-precocious ruminations of a boy aged seven in a letter to his family. Now its author has deemed it fit to appear as a book next month.

Inevitably, the obsession with privacy of this 78-year-old recluse, who lives in a remote village in New Hampshire, has bred its own mysteries. For instance, why Orchise Press? Its editor, Roger Lathbury, will not say, nor give any clue to the planned print run, or advance orders received. No review copies will be sent out, no photograph of the writer will adorn its cover. Indeed, rumour has it that Salinger insisted his name should appear vertically, to diminish its impact.

That, however, is improbable. The Catcher in the Rye, the 1951 novel of teenage angst and sexuality in post-war America which gave him worldwide fame, still sells 400,000 copies a year. One devotee was Mark David Chapman, the murderer of John Lennon.

Hapworth 16, 1924 , will be equally dissected. "The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Salinger cult," the critic Ron Rosenbaum called it in the New York Observer, in an essay on The Catcher in the Rye and the Chapman case. "Somewhere buried in it might be the key to Salinger's mysterious silence ever since."

Since then, only three further books have appeared, -the last of them Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters in 1963. Salinger is still said to spend 15 hours a day at his typewriter, but the fruits of those labours are as impenetrable as everything else about him.

Only in the mid-Eighties was he once smoked out of his lair, to block publication of a biography by Ian Hamilton which contained extracts from letters which the author argued were protected by copyright.