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Intrigue of West's last writes

Dateline: Oct 11, 1999

THE DEATH, mid-sentence and mid-manuscript, of Morris West has aroused speculation that his final book will be a surefire bestseller, but there is no guarantee that The Last Confession will ever reach the printers.

HarperCollins has received less than half a book so far, despite West's son, Chris O'Hanlon, saying at the weekend that his father "thought he was about six weeks from finishing". O'Hanlon said his father had been very excited about his latest work. "I also think he felt some intimation that the end was near - he was pushing himself quite hard, probably too hard."

The industry buzz has been strong that this latest work is the best that West has written for years, but HarperCollins publisher Angelo Loukakis said yesterday: "Talk of a writer being hired to complete the manuscript is pure conjecture. Although we have contracted the book, we will wait to ascertain the family's wishes and proceed only after consultation with them and the literary executors."

Loukakis said the company would "wait until we get the last bundle of manuscript" before making any decisions but that "Morris was not the kind of writer who had mountains of notes and draft material around".

"He seemed to work from sentence to sentence, passage to passage, until by accretion he assembled the finished work."

Although The Last Confession is a novel, West had described it to me as "more a personal travel book, autobiographical in nature, and an anecdotal revisiting of the scenes and characters from a long and varied life".

Based on the life of 16th century religious thinker Giordano Bruno, who was burned at the stake for his beliefs and with whom West identified strongly, The Last Confession was to be the final flourish to a grand scheme. He had already written a play about Bruno, The Heretic, and earlier this year completed both a libretto and film script based on the play. The novel was the fourth cornerstone to an enterprise he saw as "a fitting coda to a life's work".

Now it looks more likely to remain an unfinished symphony.

This article was first published in The Australian, October 12, 1999.

Copyright © Murray Waldren 1999

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