This is my favorite story.
There was once a brilliant student who wanted to become a famous author but paradoxically wanted no one to know who he was. Taking a pseudonym, he wrote a novel about a novel, which in turn was about a novel in which the characters rebelled against their being in such a novel. Its complex ideology on literature itself assured that it would be at best only a minor success, and regardless, most copies were incinerated in the publisher’s warehouse in London during a German raid. Undaunted, the author wrote another novel, this time eschewing the direct address of a world of literature – rather, he hid literature within the novel’s seemingly realistic world. The work developed in the most strange and unforeseeably beautiful ways, like a mishapen gem under unreplicable conditions somewhere deep in the darkest mountain.
Upon finishing, he handed the manuscript over to his publisher, who had warned him to steer clear of the “fireworks” that had made his first book unsaleable. When the publisher read this second work, he declared it even more unfit for publication than the first. The author tried a few other avenues but didn’t have the dedication or confidence necessary to carry it through. And so he told his friends and cronies, when asked about the new book, that he had lost it. That the only copy had flown out the boot of his car into the countryside, or that he had left it on a train. It was gone, he told them through various fictions, and it was impossible to recreate.
The author went onto to success in the ensuing years as a newspaper columnist, again under a pseudonym. But his ambition as a novelist was crushed and he was considered by many to have wasted his talent.
Drinking took over his life and much of it was spent attaining the necessary stupor to live through it. It is said that this once brilliant student became a hard and difficult man who knew when the pubs opened but not when they closed – he was an early riser, to say the least. And so it went. He tried toward the end of his life to resurrect his career as a novelist, even pillaging ideas from his own rejected novel, but he produced only inferior works. Finally, after much misery, he died on April Fool’s Day, 1966.
But here’s the kicker.
The book never disappeared. As you may have suspected, the author stashed it in his home, apparently in the sideboard of his dining room. He breakfasted, lunched, and dined but a few feet from it for the last 25 years of his life. Upon his death, his wife had it published. It is among the greatest works I’ve ever read. Perhaps the greatest.
This author was considered by those who knew him to be a loser. I don’t think so. I think he won.