Jonathan Franzen must have believed the British leg of his book tour could get no worse. Last week, more than 70,000 UK editions of the American author's acclaimed new novel, Freedom, were recalled when it emerged an uncorrected version of the text had been sent to print inadvertently.
Yesterday morning, the London Tube strikes delayed his appearance on Radio 4's Start The Week with Andrew Marr by half-an-hour. But the drama was not at an end: at last night's official launch for the newly corrected and reprinted book, Franzen's glasses were stolen from over his nose.
During the launch party, at London's Serpentine Gallery Pavilion, two unidentified young men approached Franzen, 51, plucked his signature spectacles from his face and made off into the darkness of Hyde Park, leaving the author's vision significantly impaired.
As they fled, the pair dropped a ransom note, reportedly demanding £100,000 in exchange for the safe return of the glasses. A spokesperson for Franzen's UK publisher, Fourth Estate, said they suspected the theft was "some kind of performance art". Rather than pay the ransom, The Independent has learned, Franzen decided to have a spare pair of prescription spectacles "Fed-Exed" from his home in the US.
Before the incident, Franzen gladly signed uncorrected copies of his novel, described by some critics as a masterpiece. The errors in the text, he said, were "not so much mistakes as a couple of bad sentences that I wanted to improve".
His UK editor, Nicholas Pearson, made a self-flagellatory speech about the printing debacle, movingly describing a trip that he and Franzen, fellow birdwatchers, had taken to Norfolk to observe snow buntings in their coastal habitat – before both learned of how he had "failed... this magnificent writer".
Franzen, however, reflected graciously upon the events of last week with a quote by Roger Straus, founder of his American publishers, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, calling them, "a fart in the wind". The author appeared similarly unruffled by the loss of his spectacles.
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