At last I had the chance to write a novel which turned out finer than I expected. Going back to it now I see it’s less than that in a couple of places, but the story remains, as Balzac said, true.
First edition. The Hunters was Salter’s debut novel, and it made his reputation. But he confesses “I never liked the title. The title while I was writing the book was, A Patron of Tokoshi’s (being the brothel in Tokyo). That was what I saw as being his trace in the world.” Going through the pages, he seemed to like the novel even less: “My God—all so stiff,” he writes, before making it through the second paragraph. “I would never use these words now,” referring to “numb lethargy” and “full animation.” A few pages on (p.5) he writes “This needs rewriting. In fact I did rewrite it in a later edition, but still not good.” “Overwritten” he pens alongside a long paragraph. “Too high flown,” in another spot, “sounds cliché now,” in a third. Things get downright sarcastic when he reads his younger self writing: “the compulsion to press close to death…” “Pressing close to pulp fiction is more like it,” he says now. Things start to get better at chapter 4: “Finally the book begins telling itself,” he writes. A little further on, “Better level of description here—a relief.” But his younger self keeps embarrassing him: “I can’t think how I didn’t see this as earnest and juvenile in the extreme when I wrote it,” he says on p.119. Near the end he simply starts crossing out entire sections and rewriting them (p. 203). Painful as it may have been for Mr Salter, his annotations open up the interesting question about the evolution of a writer’s talent. What attitude should the mature artist take towards his earlier work? Go back and rewrite it, or simply regard it as the product of a different, no longer existing self?
SALTER, James (b. 1925). The Hunters. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1956. 8o. Original black cloth; dust jacket. In a red cloth, clamshell box. With typed letter signed and 4 pages of annotated clippings.