The Curmudgeon


Saturday, September 03, 2011

The Ludlum Eponym

As all the literary world is aware, the first two hundred and twenty-seven pages of the manuscript (comprising the title page, a much-scribbled and totally illegible dedication, the Prologue and the first fifteen chapters) were found in the spring of 2002 in the attic of Robert Ludlum's house by a pest exterminator who was checking for rats.1 Pages 228-403 (chapters sixteen to twenty-four and the first seven and a half paragraphs of chapter twenty-five) were discovered in a safety deposit box in 2007 by lawyers for Orion Publishing Group who were searching for traces of Ludlum's supposed final work, The Cognomen Placement.2 Pages 429-561 (chapters twenty-seven to sixty and the Epilogue) were found in late 2010 by a long-time friend of Ludlum's in Naples, Florida when she was clearing out her shed.

The Ludlum Eponym takes a metafictional and semi-autobiographical approach, weaving real events from the author's life and career into an arguably parodic fictional narrative of great complexity. Ludlum collaborators such as Gayle Lynds and Patrick Larkin are name-checked or appear as minor characters, and there are many references to characters from previous Ludlum novels. The narrator's hilarious claim that his garage was designed by Noel Holcroft and that he has a weekend place in Tanner, Alabama is surely one of the high points of modern literature. The novel also incorporates references to astrophysics; aeronautics; Egyptology; the writings of Fulcanelli, Lautréamont, Tom Clancy and Neale Donald Walsch; and to the Apollo programme, revisionist theories of history, and gardening.

Critical reaction to the manuscript's discovery was strongly positive for the most part. Slavoj Zizek acclaimed the discovery as the most important occurrence in American letters since Fred Saberhagen's novelisation of Francis Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula, and stated with characteristic irony that "were a film version ever to appear, particularly a version which conferred on the non-available components of the textual presence an appropriately phallo-extrusive virtuality, it would almost inevitably combine most of the best (or worst) elements of Hitchcock and Kieslowski as well as Ludlum (in various senses) himself, almost especially if it did not."3 In the New York Times, Michiko Kakutani speculated that Ludlum may have been trying to branch out from the generic spy novels and thrillers for which he was mainly noted, and wrote that The Ludlum Eponym could bear comparison to the late work of Roberto Bolaño and "many other large, incomplete books".4

Negative reactions have focused on the length and apparent incompleteness of the manuscript, with Harold Bloom expressing doubt that it would ever be published even if the missing pages were discovered, and comparing the novel to "Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow without the rainbow, the gravity, the possessive particle, the Pynchon or the Thomas."5 Ludlum's own fans are reportedly divided over the issue, with many of the opinion that a new Ludlum novel would be a good thing however atypical; while others worry about the possible presence of unreliable narrators and obscure items of vocabulary, the continuing and possibly deliberate enigma of the dedication, and the alleged likelihood that the discovery of this manuscript has distracted Orion's lawyers from their search for The Cognomen Placement.6

Scholars are still hopeful that pages 404-428 will turn up, although at least one expert has said that the missing material never in fact existed and the numbering in the manuscript is a "typographical joke" after the manner of Lawrence Sterne or Alasdair Gray, neither of whom is generally thought to be a Ludlum fan.7 Nevertheless, both Eoin Colfer and Sebastian Faulks have expressed an interest in completing the novel for publication.8

1 "New Ludlum Manuscript Found". Literary Review, 6 June 2002.
2 "Unexpected Title Found in Deposit Box". New York Review of Books, 20 February 2007.
3 Slavoj Zizek, "Ludlum: Ludlum? Ludlum; Ludlum!", Between the New Postmodernisms, ch. 4.
4 Michiko Kakutani, "Name of the Risen: Ludlum the Posthumous Postmodernist". New York Times, 1 February 2011.
5 "Name-calling over Ludlum's Eponym". New York Review of Books, 20 January 2011.
6 "Fans blow hot and cold over new Ludlum". Guardian, 23 January 2011.
7 "New Ludlum incomplete". Literary Review, 19 January 2011.
8 "Sebastian Faulks and Eoin Colfer Express Interest in Completing Ludlum Novel for Publication". Graverobbers Monthly, 13 January 2011.

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