Ian McEwan's accidental plagiarism

by Nikki Tranter

3 June 2008

 

I’ve pushed aside all scheduled content today to post what I think is the funniest book-related story I’ve read in ages. It involves distinguished author Ian McEwan coming up slightly rosy-cheeked upon finding out his new, unfinished novel actually lifts a scene from the works of Douglas Adams.

Does anyone else think that is just the most perfect thing?

The story goes that at a reading at Hay Literary Festival in Wales, a member of the audience remarked that a scene McEwan recounted was very familiar. The scene involved a man on a train eating a bag of chips. The man is shocked to see another passenger eating from the same bag, and making no effort to disguise the fact. A confrontation occurs, and when the man leaves the train, he finds his unopened chip packet in his pocket.

After some investigation, McEwan discovered the scene appears in Douglas Adams’s 1984 book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. The story is apparently a famous urban legend, only instead of chips, most tellers (like Adams) give the traveller a packet of biscuits.

The Australian points readers here to a short film, called Cookies, based on Adams’s scene.

McEwan’s new book is not due for publication for another two years and is reported to feature climate change as its central theme.

 

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