Author's fans split as 'roughs' go on sale

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In life, he was a perfectionist who would spend months agonising over the most minor plot detail, before allowing even his closest confidantes a glimpse of his prose.

Yet, nearly a year after Douglas Adams died suddenly while in the throes of writer's block, his publishers are preparing to do what he would never have dreamt of himself: release a rough draft of one of his books.

The Salmon of Doubt, the incomplete final novel by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author, will be published in May. The 90-page fragment, chronicling the third adventure of "holistic detective" Dirk Gently, will be accompanied by 35 other pieces, ranging from a short story, "The Private Life of Genghis Khan", to an account of how Adams broke his nose on his own knee while playing rugby.

While fans of the writer have greeted news of the book with enthusiasm, it is not likely to be universally welcomed. Industry observers have criticised the publisher, Macmillan, for bowing to commercial pressure, while fellow scribes have questioned the fairness of printing an unfinished work by a notorious stickler. J G Ballard, whose novels include Crash, Cocaine Nights and Empire of the Sun, said incomplete books did a writer's legacy a disservice.

"There's a lot of magic involved in writing a novel ... Cobbling together a first draft that would have been subject to a huge number of further drafts and revisions is a bit like turning the novelist into a second-rate conjuror."

Nancy Sladek, editor of the Literary Review, said: "It's questionable whether they should publish it. It's not a finished book. From what we know about Douglas Adams, he wouldn't have been happy with a half-finished novel being published in his name."

Critic and academic Sir Frank Kermode said: "If there's a presumption that what they've come up with is not something in the form the author would have wanted to be published, there is an argument against doing it."

A spokeswoman for Macmillan said the book was compiled with the approval of his friends and family. "Everyone took into account the express wishes of the people closest to Douglas, his wife, his mother and his agent, Ed Victor," she said. "We did not ask for this book. It was the idea of his agent."