Ihimaera's controversial novel unlikely to be reprinted

By Paul Harper

Author Witi Ihimaera. Photo / Richard Robinson
Author Witi Ihimaera. Photo / Richard Robinson

If you've got a first edition copy of Witi Ihimaera's book The Trowenna Sea, you'll have to wait a while before you'll know if it is a priceless collectors' item.

The book has been mired in controversy after it was discovered passages had been plagiarised from other authors. Although the publisher said last year the book would be republished with amendments acknowledging the authors whose work had been used, Penguin and Mr Ihimaera have since changed their minds.

With the book now unlikely to ever be reprinted, collectors may be wondering whether their first edition will increase markedly in value.

However Francis McWhannell, head of rare books at Bethunes@Webb's said it is too early to say whether it could become a collectors' item "A decade from now we'd have a better idea," Mr McWhannell said. "Any scarcity will tend to have an affect on items, that is an increase in price, but there is the issue of whether it will be of interest to collectors."

He said apart from Whale Rider first editions of Mr Ihimaera's novels did not reach high prices at auction.

When published in October of last year, a trade paperback of the book retailed for $37.

Penguin's publishing director Geoff Walker would not say how many of the books had been printed, or comment further on the reasons why the book was not to be reprinted.

Mr Whannell said it was "somewhat unusual" the book would not be reprinted, and wondered whether there had been issues with attributing the plagiarised text to the authors.

"If it had been wildly commercially profitable it would be worth going through the proper channels to attribute to the sources.

"It may be that the book has not been selling."

Mr McWhannell said it would depend on the book retaining its interest with the general public for it to increase in value. He felt the controversy around the book was a "mountain out of a mole hill".

"I generally think it was not a particularly scandalous act, it was more of an oversight," he said.

"I personally doubt it will be a particularly enduring scandal," he said. "I doubt it will add much to the book's repute and therefore its value."

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