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Carmen Mola episode: What makes a good literary hoax? A political point, for starters

Literary hoaxes thrive on exposure. At best, they are politically transgressive. They strip away anything smug, pretentious or hypocritical to reveal an uglier reality underneath.

Hoaxes may use ethically questionable methods. But when they work, they tell us something about the relationship of art to life and politics. It’s the literary equivalent of Banksy shredding an artwork at Sotheby’s as the hammer came down.

If they don’t, then we should question if they deserve to be called a hoax at all.

Recently, hoaxes were in the headlines when three men leapt onto a Barcelona stage to accept a million euro literary prize awarded by the publishing house, Planeta – “unmasking” themselves as the Spanish writer, Carmen Mola in the process. “Mola”, a bestselling crime author, won the Euro prize for La BestiaThe Beast – a thriller about a serial killer stalking Madrid in the midst of a cholera epidemic.

Cue global shock, followed by shrugs from authors, publishers and critics. So far, the fury has centred on who is allowed to write what, and why. However author Margaret Atwood crisply and correctly called the unveiling a “a great publicity stunt”. This hoax was embarrassing and high profile. But it was also unoriginal and apolitical.

The men behind Mola said they were tired of lying. But might claiming a lucrative, prestigious prize –…

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