Entertainment Books The books that shocked the world in 2016
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The books that shocked the world in 2016

lionel shriver
Author Lionel Shriver angered many by donning a sombrero in defence of her latest book. Photo: Getty
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Let’s face it, 2016 has been harsh, screeching to a halt with the death of David Bowie in January then erupting into a tumbling ball of fire, past Brexit to President-elect Trump.

The book world has not been quarantined from all this mayhem. As the annus horribilis draws to an undignified end, we take a look at five literary scandals.

The did-they didn’t-they political page-turner

It’s not every year that an unauthorised political biography sparks a national scandal, but former Howard staffer Niki Savva’s examination of what went wrong with the Abbot Prime Ministership did exactly that.

the-road-to-ruinThe main take away for many was: “Did the former PM and his Chief of Staff have an affair?”

In an opinion column published by News Corp, Peta Credlin responded that the implied suggestion was “about as low as it gets.”

Savva didn’t exactly suggest an affair in The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government, though there is a seriously icky report of Credlin hand-feeding Abbott.

It was actually an account of NSW Liberal MP Concetta Fierravanti-Wells who told Abbott it was what folks were saying behind closed doors.

Unhappy birthday

Based on real historical figure Hercules, a slave who was President George Washington’s chef, and his daughter Delia, george-washingtonRamin Ganeshram’s kids’ book A Birthday Cake for George Washington was withdrawn by publisher Scholastic after a huge backlash.

The book depicted smiling slaves illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton.

While Ganeshram noted in her defence that Hercules was proud of his position and achievements, the book neglected to mention he eventually fled captivity, with even a great degree of freedom to move no substitute for real freedom. Sadly, Delia was left behind.

The right to wear a sombrero?

Race also came into play in We Need to Talk About Kevin author Lionel Shriver’s latest novel The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047.

40902-2Predicting a near-future America brought to its knees by debt, the book depicted an African-American character led on a leash because of her dementia.

Sparking claims of racism from some reviewers, Shriver doubled down, delivering a keynote speech at the Brisbane Writers Festival condemning the “fad” of accusing white writers of cultural appropriation.

She also pointed to student politicians in America who had been castigated for wearing sombreros to a tequila party.

Shriver then donned a sombrero at the end of her speech. Twitter went into meltdown.

Youth Without Borders founder Yassmin Abdel-Magied and The Hate Race author Maxine Beneba Clarke delivered impassioned responses.

An ugly unmasking

Elena Ferrante fanatics who devoured the Neapolitan Novels were spoiled with the release of Frantumaglia in November, a beautiful collection of the reclusive and pseudonymous novelist’s letters and essays.

9781925240542One month earlier, thoroughly un-gentlemanly Italian journo Claudio Gatti brutishly unveiled Ferrante’s possible true identity against her will via forensic research of her publisher’s accounts.

The New York Review of Books picked up his exposé, which claimed Ferrante was Rome-based translator Anita Raja.

Booker-winning author Salman Rushdie, no stranger to scandal with a fatwā placed on his life after the publication of The Satanic Verses in 1988, responded on Facebook.

“I am Elena Ferrante. In the spirit of ‘I am Spartacus,’ in the wake of the New York Review of Books’ tawdry ‘exposé’ of her identity, every writer in the world should do this now.”

And a past scandal revisited…

Ten years ago The New York Times similarly unmasked forty-something Brooklyn-based mother Laura Albert as the real person behind literary sensation JT LeRoy, the memoirist who revealed a life of teenage truck stop hustling.

She even got friend Savannah Knoop to play LeRoy in public, accruing celebrity friends such as Bono and Courtney Love.

After debuting at the Canberra International Film Festival, filmmaker Jeff Feuerzeig’s doco Author: The JT LeRoy Story opens at ACMI in Melbourne on December 29. It’s a fascinating second look at a truly bizarre story.

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