32 of the past 45 Google searches bringing people here featured the words "Helene Hegemann". It would appear people are interested in the whole Axolotl Roadkill plagiarism issue.
So here it is in a nutshell. 17-year-old Helene wrote a book (see my very brief review plus a couple of comments on the issue) set in Berlin. The 16-year-old narrator takes drugs and goes to clubs in Berlin, among other depraved activities. Over the weekend the blogger Deef Pirmasens pointed out the many similarities between Hegemann's portrayal of drug-taking at Berghain and the portrayal in a previously neglected book, Strobo, by another blogger called Airen. And yesterday Hegemann admitted she hadn't actually credited Airen as one of her many sources and inspirations, for a book that rather comes across as a collage of ideas, images and pop-cultural references. She talks about an online culture of sampling and remixing and comments:
Although I stand entirely behind my text and my principle, I apologise for not having mentioned all the people whose ideas and texts helped me from the very beginning.
According to a sympathetic Felicitas von Lovenberg in the FAZ, the novel was at least going to be shortlisted for the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair. We'll have to wait until Thursday for the dust to settle and the shortlist to come out. But of course everyone has an opinion right now.
Want to know mine? I don't care. I still think it's a good book, owing much more to Kathy Acker's techniques than to Airen's description of the Berghain toilets. Yes, it's downright disrespectful to credit David Foster Wallace and not "some blogger" as he's referred to in the text. Yes, even a 17-year-old should know better, especially one as apparently media-savvy as Helene Hegemann. But no, the publishers don't have a duty to check every word in every book for plagiarism. And no, there's so much more to Axolotl Roadkill than the few pages in question.
Whatever people wanted to believe about the book - and I'll admit I'm far from immune myself, with the intruiging narrator and the impossibly glam writer exerting a certain pull over me too - it is a work of fiction and should stand alone as such, not as a factual account of underage depravity in noughties Berlin.
I hope the HH phenomenon doesn't prove to be a house of cards. Because then I'd have to eat my words - but I don't think that's going to happen.
Update: According to Jürgen Kaube in the FAZ, Hegemann has compiled a list of sources:
There's now a list of writers whom Helene Hegemann hadn't thanked for using their works word for word or almost word for word. (...) The list ranges from Malcolm Lowry – for the book's first sentence – and David Foster Wallace through Rainald Goetz and the blogger Airen to Kathy Acker. It comes from Hegemann herself; the publishers Ullstein Verlag intend to make it available soon.
And yes, and yes, it's still a good book. It ought to have been clear from the beginning - had we cared to look! - that Hegemann was "sampling", as she puts it; all those snatches of lyrics ought to have been a bit of a giveaway. But I'm fascinated by the reactions, which vary from plain insults and abuse tainted with obvious envy to fierce defences of the poor little baby writer.
If you read German, that FAZ article is well worth a look, reflecting as many have been over the past few days on our expectations as readers of "young literature". We want it to be real, dripping with pathos, we want young writers to run straight home from the darkroom and spill their guts into their laptops. We want to live a vicarious wild youth - but it has to be genuine misery memoir to get our pulses racing.
I'm waiting for that list before I eat any words. And I can be very stubborn.
Update update: There's more evidence of Hegemann's, ummm, naive approach to other people's intellectual property at Viceland. In this case she wrote a short story dangerously close to a film, which was based on a short story, which of course is rather similar to her version. I'm still not eating those words yet though.