Yesterday evening Jonathan Franzen walked into the Southbank centre’s Queen Elizabeth hall for an event promoting his new novel Freedom (reviewed by Prospect‘s Tom Chatfield in our current issue)—and told an audience of around 300 people that he had an “awkward” announcement to make. This turned out to be something of an understatement, as Franzen made one of the most unusual requests any author can ever have asked of their readers: “don’t buy the book.” There were audible gasps. Somehow, it seemed, the wrong version of Freedom had been printed in Britain. What had gone to press was an earlier draft with “style differences,” as a result of which the entire British run of some 80,000 copies is to be pulped.
HarperCollins, it seems, only discovered that mistakes had been made at 6.30pm that day, even though the book has been out since the 23rd September. They’re offering free exchange to all purchasers and hope to get corrected copies into bookshops by Monday—they’ve even set up a hotline for anxious Franzenites to call. HC executives must be feeling pretty shocked at Franzen’s own frank announcement, having hoped, Prospect gathers, somehow to wait until Friday to reveal the news to booksellers. Still, Franzen himself seems to have taken it pretty well, despite the initial shock; given that two pages in the initial print run of The Corrections were printed in the wrong order, he may even be getting used to this kind of thing. And while the cost of reprints, refunds and logistics is likely to run well into six figures, there is at least good news for Britain’s early Freedom adopters—each one of them now owns a collectors’ edition.