Thursday, 29 March 2012

You are mistaken in calling it a novel

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In September of 1961, a young publicist at Simon & Schuster named Nina Bourne began sending out copies of a forthcoming book to a whole host of notable readers, in an attempt to solicit a blurb or two for its release. They were accompanied with an enthusiastic note from Bourne that read, "This is a book I’d get a critic out of the shower to read."

The novel in question was Joseph Heller's Catch-22, and the following response came from Evelyn Waugh.

(Source: The Letters of Evelyn Waugh; Image: Evelyn Waugh, via LIFE.)

6 September 1961

Dear Miss Bourne,

Thank you for sending me Catch 22. I am sorry that the book fascinates you so much. It has many passages quite unsuitable to a lady's reading. It suffers not only from indelicacy but from prolixity. It should be cut by about a half. In particular the activities of "Milo" should be eliminated or greatly reduced.

You are mistaken in calling it a novel. It is a collection of sketches—often repetitious—totally without structure.

Much of the dialogue is funny.

You may quote me as saying: "This exposure of corruption, cowardice and incivility of American officers will outrage all friends of your country (such as myself) and greatly comfort your enemies."

Evelyn Waugh