“Hey, I’m just the author! I didn’t *write* that…”

The complexities of producing a blockbuster novel must, now and then, create tangles that eventually catch someone out. The head that rolls, though, may not be connected to the feet that tripped.

A front-page article in this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald points out where Lynda La Plante’s novel, Entwined, contains a number of passages that are identical – or very nearly so – to passages from Five Chimneys, a memoir written by Holocaust survivor Olga Lengyel and published in 1947. The broadsheet version of the article shows the corresponding passages side-by-side; the web article does not. (The passages not only include similar or exact reproductions of phrases and sentences; they include exact statistical references. The similarities are, to my eye, beyond coincidence; if I can find a reference online, I’ll provide the link here.)

According to the article, La Plante responded – through her lawyers – that she hadn’t lifted the passages, nor had she ever read Five Chimneys. A research assistant whom La Plante no longer uses, they said, may have taken the passages.

The article asserts that La Plante denies intentionally plagiarising, and it adds that the newspaper makes no such accusation. It also points out that use of research assistants is common, if not universal, but that Entwined contains no acknowledgements of assistants or sources.

The article goes on to raise, or imply, several fascinating, and difficult, issues:

- The difference between plagiarism and failure to acknowledge sources
- “Forgivable” and “unforgivable” plagiarism – e.g. lifting a Holocaust survivor’s personal recollections
- The author’s accountability for the sins of the research assistant, named or otherwise
- The use of sources, such as research assistants, without acknowledgement

The biggest question, to me, is this: If the author’s name is on the cover, and no other sources are credited, is the author not accountable for every word in the book?

[Note: Ironically, I find that William's already provided a link to this story in the Friday Morning Lit Links. I must get a research assistant.]

37 Responses to ““Hey, I’m just the author! I didn’t *write* that…””

  1. William Haskins Says:

    it’s really quite simple. pick up a pen and pad, or fire up a computer, do your own goddamn research and write your book.

    this andy warhol approach to writing sickens me.

  2. Carol Says:

    Same old, same old.
    “I swear I didn’t know the gun was loaded.”
    “You can’t get pregnant if you do it just one time.”
    “I don’t know how that $1200 sweater got in my handbag.”
    “The devil made me do it.”
    Now we can add…
    “An invisible research assistant slipped whole sections of another person’s work into my manuscript.”

    Carols last blog post..A warning to my oppressors

  3. Michael Says:

    Opening lines by her intern that La Plante luckily rejected:

    “Call me Ishmael.”

    “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

  4. William Haskins Says:


  5. Rob Says:

    William, you crazy idealist, you.

    I thought the whole point of fiction was to eliminate the need to do research.

    Robs last blog post..Political Poetry Corner: "Primary Colors"

  6. JJ Cooper Says:

    Statistical references in a novel?

    I’m sure the assistant had access to the MS where he/she could copy and paste them straight in. And how about the dozen or so edits the author and editors must have been through.

    Editor: Wow. This part seems very authentic. Well done.

    Author: Yeah, my research assistant wrote it.


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