“Freedom” – which draft?

I read this interesting story on the BBC about printing problems with Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”; there’s more about it on the Guardian site here. When I was reading the book I noticed a couple of typos, but this is par for the course these days with the parlous state of proof-reading and copy-editing in the publishing industry. Rarely will I get through a new book without spotting at least one misspelled word, or a few punctuation marks out of place. In this case though, Franzen seems to be suggesting that a different draft of the novel altogether was published. I can’t find any other information about how significant the changes are between these drafts, if this is in fact what has happened. If the changes are minor, then I’m not sure I can be bothered going to the (admittedly small) effort of sending it back for a replacement, but if the changes are extensive, then I would be intrigued to see how different the two editions are. Would this bring into doubt the critical plaudits the novel has received so far (on this side of the Atlantic – there’s no suggestion the wrong edition was published in the USA)? Textual differences are the domain of the philologist or literary historian, and drafts are usually compared once the author is safely dead. I can’t think of any other recent example when a major novelist has had to plead with his audience not to read his book when it’s been out for over a week.

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2 thoughts on ““Freedom” – which draft?

  1. Tony Pollard

    This is all quite amusing, though obviously embarrassing for author and publisher (another story in the Guardian today). I would recommend all those with ‘faulty’ copies to keep them – they may become collectors items if enough people trade them in for the revised version. I can only imagine Franzen’s mortification when he realised this had happened – it would have killed me. What a cock up. However, the issue of perfect copy is an interesting one. When my own first novel was published in hardback by Penguin after some very intensive proof reading I read it afresh to find fault, and boy did I. Though I take a slight pleasure from picking up typos in novels there are some excellent proof readers out there. It’s a different case when it’s your own work though. I still have my working copy of the hardback with dozens of post-its poking from the pages. There were numerous changes made for the paperback edition – at my insistance and much to my relief. Not many of them were typos or grammar though. In the main they were irritating gaffs with continuity and timing – mistakes that no one ever picked up on but which really annoyed me. Apparently it’s not unusual to have this sort of correction process occur between hard and paperback. Then there are the cases where authors have produced entirely revised versions of their work some years later due to dissatisfaction with the original product – I read both versions of The Magus by John Fowles but so much time had elapsed between readings that I couldn’t identify a single change!

    Reply
    1. richardstrachan Post author

      It’s the strangest thing, isn’t it? I think I’m just going to wait till the paperback comes out and compare the two then. I don’t think the changes are going to be significant enough to warrant a complete reappraisal on the work, and I’m content to wait till next year. Interesting what you say about the difference between the hardback and the paperback of your own novel though – I confess I read it in proof copy (no royalties from me, sorry!), but I think I’ll invest in a copy now and see if I notice anything different. As the writers, you and Franzen will obviously be looking at the books with a completely different perspective – I wonder if the readers ever noticed?

      Reply

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