The Hypothetical Library is a fantastic web project by book designer Charlie Orr – cover images and blurbs for fictitious books by real writers. Do check it regularly, especially as up next is a real favourite of mine, Lydia Millet, whose genuine work includes Oh Pure and Radiant Heart, Everybody’s Beautiful (about her time copyediting Larry Flynt publications) and George Bush, Dark Prince of Love.

It reminded me that, in the early days of working on Lost Books, I toyed with including non-existent works by non-existent authors: for example, the “vampire poem” by Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses; Dreams Don’t Mean Anything, Aforethought, Invisible Worms and Untitled by Richard Tull in The Information by Martin Amis or A Treatise on the Binomial Theory by James Moriarty in The Final Problem by Arthur Conan Doyle. Eventually, and somewhat regretfully, I realised that the project was both too vast, and somehow out of keeping with the tone of Lost Books; although I went some way towards creating parameters  – such as not including “complete” books in books (so I could have John Shade’s Taming a Seahorse from Pale Fire, but not Pale Fire itself) and severely restricting fantasy and fantasy comedy (since Adams, Pratchett, Tolkien and Frank Herbert could fill a book). And no fictitious books by real people (which ruled out, alas, The Italian Fake Wedding Book by Deleuze and Guattari in Thomas Pynchon’s Vineland)

Anyway, five of my favourites would have been

A Unauthor with their Unbook

  • Les Problèmes d’un Problème, written before Pierre Menard before he wrote Don Quixote in Borges’ Labyrinths
  • The Land Downstairs by Grady Tripp – and the 2,000 page MS he was trying to complete in Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys
  • Not just De Selby’s own works, but the works about De Selby (such as The De Selby Water Boxes Day by Day by Hatchjaw,  De Selby – Lieu ou Homme? by Le Fouriner and the De Selbys Leben by Kraus) in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman
  •  Almost anything by Kilgore Trout, who first appeared in God Bless You, Mr Rosewater and had his finest hour in Breakfast of Champions – but particularly The Planet Gobblers, Maniacs in the Fourth Dimension and his memoir Ten Years on Autopilot
  • Breaking my own rule of fantasy: the Necronomicon by the “mad Arab” Abdul Alhazred, which crops up times and again in H P Lovecraft’s works. Apparently it’s the most frequently requested library book that doesn’t exist. 

Entire novels, from Possession to Mulligan Stew depend on fictional authors – and the most recent of these, the Asian Man Booker winner Miguel Syjuco in his novel Ilustrado is well worth a look.



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4 responses to “Un-books

  1. Andrew J. Wilson

    I’ll always have a soft spot for THE LAND OF LAUGHS and GREEN DOG’S SORROW by Marshall France, as chronicled in Jonathan Carroll’s first novel, which borrowed its title from the former.

  2. A few folio editions of De Selby would indeed be most welcome. I have a friend who has been researching for years the great man’s experiments involving hammering. All hail travel by postcard!

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