Salinger death: will there be more books?
After The Catcher in the Rye no further JD Salinger novel was ever published. Could his death change that?
The death this week of JD Salinger, a man so secretive that he has refused any funeral service, raises a huge question: what had the author of The Catcher in the Rye been working on since he disappeared off the public stage in the mid-1960s? And will we ever get the chance to read any of it?
Salinger may have given up publishing his work after only one novel and several short stories, but that does not mean he didn't continue to write.
Indeed, there is much anecdotal evidence to say that he did go on writing. But is it any good? And will his literary executors allow anything to be published?
The Catcher in the Rye, published in 1951, was one of the most influential novels of the post-war years. A story of adolescent angst and rebellion, its protagonist Holden Caulfield has become, along with F Scott Fitzgerald's Jay Gatsby and Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, one of the few truly iconic characters of American literature.
Catcher is estimated to have sold more than 65 million copies around the world. Every year, it still sells 200,000 in America alone. As Christopher Hitchens put it last night, there is a generation of readers who know where they were when they first read The Catcher in the Rye, just as they remember where they were when they heard about Jack Kennedy's assassination.
So, is there a treasure trove of unpublished literature hidden in a safe at Salinger's farmhouse in Cornish, New Hampshire, the house he disappeared to in 1965, never to appear - in a PR or publishing sense - again?
His literary agent, Phyllis Westberg, at Harold Ober Associates on Madison Avenue, isn't talking. His publisher - if that's the right term - Little, Brown says there are no plans for any new Salinger books.
Members of his family contacted by the Associated Press have refused to talk, as has the New York lawyer, Marcia B Paul, who represented Salinger last year when he sued a cheeky Swedish writer who tried to publish a "sequel" to The Catcher in the Rye.
But there is at least evidence - anecdotal only - that he was writing continuously.
In 1998, Joyce Maynard, who had a nine-month affair with Salinger in the early 70s, when she was 18 and he was 53, published a memoir, At Home in the World, about their somewhat bizarre relationship. (For instance, she only ever had oral sex with Jerry, as she called him.) In it she said he wrote daily and had completed at least two novels, which he had stashed away somewhere.
The following year, a New Hampshire neighbour called Jerry Burt claimed Salinger had told him years before that he had written at least 15 unpublished books and locked them in a safe at the farmhouse. (It is not known whether Burt and JD continued to speak following this revelation.)
Most encouragingly, in 2000, his daughter Margaret Salinger wrote in her memoir that her father filed all his writing very precisely in preparation for his death: a red mark meant the book could be released "as is"; a blue mark meant that the manuscript would need editing.
In a rare foray into the outside world, Salinger told the New York Times in 1974 that not publishing brought him "a marvelous peace". He said: "I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." That peace is likely to be shattered if the millions of fans of The Catcher in the Rye have anything to do with it. ·