The Voyeur’s Motel and other unlikely stories

When is a true story not a true story? Ask Gay Talese, Alex Malarkey or Lewis Wolpert

Gay Talese’s new book will not be published until 12 July but already he has been forced to disavow it, and then disavow his disavowal. The Voyeur’s Motel is apparently the true story of a motel owner who spied on his guests. So when the Washington Post approached Talese with information that cast doubt on its veracity, he was devastated. His credibility was “in the toilet”, he cried, before, shortly afterwards, standing by the book and promising to make any corrections in future editions.

Talese may be especially sensitive about errors that could discredit his non-fiction. His wife is Nan Talese, the editor of James Frey, whose memoir A Million Little Pieces was found to contain several fabrications. She was with Frey on Oprah’s couch when they were both eviscerated by the star, and the publisher was forced to offer refunds. Nonetheless, the book has sold more than 5 million copies. Some of those from the fiction shelves.

Jonah Lehrer has had not one but two books withdrawn from sale after he admitted making up material. But this week, booksellers promised to support his new work of non-fiction, A Book About Love, when it is published on 12 July.

Recent books that have had to be withdrawn include: The Whole Pantry, a recipe book by a blogger who claimed to have healed her cancer with healthy eating, but whose friends and doctors doubted that she ever had cancer at all; The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Alex Malarkey, who admitted inventing that he had died and met Jesus because “I thought it would get me attention”; and Lewis Wolpert’s You’re Looking Very Well, which was found to contained several unattributed passages from other publications.

In Jay McInerney’s forthcoming novel Bright, Precious Days, the editor hero is in trouble after publishing a memoir without checking the facts. It will be published in September and solidly marketed as fiction, but no doubt McInerney had plenty of contemporary sources for his research.

Katy Guest

The GuardianTramp

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