I had this great idea, about fifteen years ago, that when I finally wrote a novel I would do so anonymously. Not that I had any great need of anonymity, I didn’t have anything to hide or anything to protect. It just seemed like a cool device. Something to break the fourth wall and have the reader feel like there was more to the book than the words on the page. It’s been done, of course, and when I did start putting my work out there it had my name on it. I imagined any interest that having an anonymously written book might create would be more than undone by the revelation that the author was someone you had never even heard of.
Apparently, an authors name is his brand. This, while creating a cynical little shiver inside of me, makes perfect sense. If nothing else the aim is to get to the point that people associate a name with good writing. The obvious reasons for a writer maintaining anonymity are because they are writing something scandalous, or to build interest in the book. The Secret Footballer does both. The hook is clever, by maintaining his anonymity the Secret Footballer can tell us things about football that no one else would ever be able to say, and it is double clever because who it actually is of real interest.
I’ve only read half of it so far. Bad form, I know, but this blog has been neglected for a while and the idea of anonymous authors got me thinking. Reading The Secret Footballer is half expose, half Sherlock Holmes mystery. Its fun to tick off players as they get mentioned as being ineligible candidates for who this guy is. There’s a lot of discussion about it on a website devoted to the mystery. But the truth is, I don’t want to know who it is. I doubt I’d have ever been interested in the book (or the Guardian column from which the book is derived) had he been named from the start. The anonymity also offers authenticity. His opinions carry more weight and his version of events seem more reliable purely because the fact that we don’t know who he is suggests he has little to gain from lying. His candidness would be less trustworthy if he were named and his picture were on the cover. And the distinct lack of ego required to write anonymously also causes him to stand out from other football players. For right or for wrong, the stereotype of a professional football player is well established and the creation of The Secret Footballer as an entity in its own right is clever. He mentions reading Shakespeare as a boy, and there is a Proust reference in one chapter. These might be deliberate attempts to undo the stereotypes and give some weight to his abilities as a writer, but what it has done is create an author that is more intriguing than if he had written under his own name. He has been able to shake off some of the baggage that being a football player carries with it.
I tend to be wary of books by celebrities that are not necessarily celebrated for their writing. I almost missed out on reading Andrew Kaufman because he has the same name as the other Andrew Kaufman. I don’t automatically trust a celebrity chef to write an entertaining and enlightening book any more than I would trust a novelist to open a restaurant. For some people a book is just another outlet, another product that can be delivered from their brand. For other people, the book is everything. The Secret Footballer has managed a little of both.