Photo: Journalist Simon Caterson.
I first met Simon Caterson in February 2009 when he interviewed me for my new book -- a literary history on the evolution of the Australian novel, the translation of which is now available in English under the title of Panorama of the Australian Novel.
One might say he is cut out to be a literary journo with his storytelling gift and intuitive sense of picking out the most interesting parts of a story.
Little did I know at that time that he was working on a book project, commissioned by Arcade Publications, a literary project I eventually found out about four weeks ago when I had the book in my hands!
Hoax Nation (2009) and Panorama cover common grounds in the sense that they both deal with literary hoaxes. Yet, Hoax Nation which purports to be a monograph on the subject of hoaxes, fakery, forgeries and impersonations is even more inclusive, even tough it sketchily covers some of the charted territories, like the chapter on "Not-so Indigenous identities" which could have been fleshed out a bit more.
Caterson opens his book with the Norma Khouri hoax, which was exposed on 24 July 2004. Forbidden Love: A Harrowing True Story of Love and Revenge in Jordan turned out to be fake, but it sold close to 250,000 copies in the US, UK and Australia alone. Using a conversational tone and a series of inserts (anecdoctes, proverbs, ...), Simon Caterson has the gift of the gab to entertain his readers throughout this 170-page pocket-sized book. At the close of the book, he moves away from the publishing world to investigate the art world, with brave statements on art frauds such as this one: "But it's a matter of public record that forgeries of many of Australia's best-known artists have been listed in sale catalogues only to be withdrawn." (151)
Admittedly, the not so inquisitive minds will find forgeries and hoaxes hard to detect, even when contradictory information is given. In some cases, unless you are given different versions of a same story, it is extremely difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. In other words, you needn't have to take things at face value to fall a victim to hoaxes.
Peter Carey drew everyone's attention with his epigraph to his second novel Illywhacker (1985) when he quoted Mark Twain who, following his lecture tour in Sydney in September 1885, pointed out that "Australian history [...] does not read like history but like the most beautiful lies". There has always been a tradition of frauds and fakes in Australia and one might say that Simon Caterson has managed to illustrate this sweeping statement with his bird's eyes view of hoaxes in Australia.
Hoax Nation is an enjoyable and informative read which I highly recommend to readers.