Can You Identify this Mysterious Writer?
Over the weekend the Times of London engaged in something of a parlor game, printing an excerpt by an “undisputed great of British literature” without revealing who that great is. Editor Erica Wagner uses the anonymous author of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight as inspiration, but let’s get on with the show, shall we? Here’s how the excerpt of “The Empty Chair” opens:
abundance of spirit, because the winter sun streamed in a crisp yellow glow
across the breakfast table, and because everyone around her was happy. She
liked everyone to be happy. Her favourite quotation was “Laugh and the world
laughs with you” and she was never tired of being photographed in hospital
wards surrounded by very obviously happy patients. So now in her own home,
with a fine day, a house full of people, no husband, and exquisitely
conscious of looking no more than 35, she piled the marmalade upon her thin
toast in reckless bravado. And the toast, first rebel of the promising day,
broke half way to her mouth.
Then three people of all literary stripes – John Sutherland, Barry Forshaw and Margaret Reynolds – take their guesses:
to the prose that makes me suspect it is someone writing entirely out of
character. I'll cover my bets by saying I'm stumped."
Forshaw: "Difficult to identify? Not at all. This is the first chapter of a fascinating,
untitled experiment produced (in one alcohol-fuelled week) by two great
American pulp writers, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, as a tribute
to Agatha Christie."
is definitely not Ruth Rendell. It's not quite fairytale enough for Antonia
Fraser, and not quite wry enough for Lynne Truss. So I'll go with the
evidence of the two Shakespearean references and plump for Susan Hill."
<p> Considering Christie's archives were recently unearthed (along with previously undiscovered tapes) I could take the easy way out and guess it's her, but I kind of agree with Sutherland – the piece feels like someone's trying to write in a style they never would ordinarily. But hey, this can't be a game without throwing it open to everyone, right? At least until the answer is revealed next weekend… </p>