I believe I promised updates on one of the great (albeit minor) literary controversies of recent times: i.e. the ‘spooky’ similarity between the opening lines of Cosmo Frome’s On Onerous Oneness and Stephan Leberret’s Rue de la Wreck. Here, for those who don’t have both lines written on the walls of their copious memories, are the competitors once again, starting with Frome:
Apologies: we started without you. Hope you don’t mind. But glad you could join us. Better late than never, no? Now, where were we?
and moving onto Leberret:
Sorry: I started without you. And I sure as hell can’t be bothered to recap. You’re going to have to pick things up as we go along. That’ll teach you for being a gentle reader.
The relationship between the two is obvious. But whose lines came first? This, unsurprisingly, is the question that sits like a sulking teenager on the wet step of the literary world’s lips. Frome’s novel was published two weeks earlier than Leberret’s; though the latter was already printed when the former was on the shelves. Neither author claims to have seen the work of the other at an earlier stage, or even to have heard of each other (this is plausible: both writers are a little on the obscure side, after all). This suggests, then, that is was a coincidence. But try to tell the newspapers that.
Actually, what I would suggest is this: that Frome and Leberret are in league and have contrived to stir up this controversy to publicise their respective books. And with good reason, for they have both written what is generally known in the business as a ‘stinker’. I can safely say that Leberret’s novel, despite its jaunty beginning, is just about the worst book I have read for quite some time. Never in the history of literature has the bohemian lifestyle been detailed with so little vigour. I’ve read stories about stockbrokers that made me yawn less. Frome, on the other hand…