Plot Thickens in the Story of O

Like any city devoted purely to the business of politics, Washington DC thrives on gossip. Much of the tattle inside the beltway in recent weeks has been over the publication this week of O, a speculative account of the 2012 presidential race. In the roman à clef, the presidential incumbent is a thinly-disguised Barack Obama.

Much like Joe Klein’s 1996 Primary Colors, which was about a fictionalised Clinton White House, O is being published anonymously. Hence, the wheels of gossip - spurred on perhaps by publicists at Simon & Schuster - have turned primarily on the author’s identity. The consensus has settled on James Salter, former aide to Senator John McCain.

The novel’s critical reception has been tepid at best, but it has once again raised questions about anonymity in political politics. Robert McCrum’s essay in the Daily Beast traces the history of literary anonymity back to the 17th century. In 1663, publisher Robert Twyn was hung, drawn and quartered for protecting the anonymity of a writer of an incendiary pamphleteer.

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