Unknown author Nick Harkaway lands a £300,000 book deal with Random House imprint William Heinemman for his debut novel The Wages of Gonzo Lubitsch. In reports, defensiveness hangs heavy in the air because Harkaway is Nicholas Cornwell, the 30-something son of John le Carré (aka David Cornwell). The inevitable suspicion of hereditary privilege should not irk us. As I’ve said before – and will continue saying – the process to mainstream publication owes more to magical serendipity than talent alone, given the total subjectivity of any editorial assessment. New York magazine comments on Harkaway’s book: “We’re hearing that [his] writing is fantastic, though the story itself has some major problems.” Never mind, publishers spend a small fortune on literary medical procedures to salvage a book – I have a close friend whose main source of income is rewriting and repairing books for publishers, some of which have gone on to become bestsellers. More to the point, Random House and Harkaway’s agent Patrick Walsh will have ker-chinged at the prospect of marketing a book by the son of le Carré – not in ads, silly – but in briefings to the book trade, journalists and TV shows. The process has started already with a full page story about the deal in the Independent today. I am sure Harkaway’s processed, finished version will be professional.
PS The pseudonym Nick Harkaway is presumably a self-referential call to find the true, pristine Nicholas - "hark away" is a hunting term I believe. The name is a form of exorcism of his father's literary curse on him - inevitably people will meanly conjure up the continuity of the le Carré brand - yet would he now be on the edge of literary accomplishment without that curse?