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Friday, January 13, 2006


As the world and Oprah knows by now, James Frey's A Million Little Pieces is under the scanner after this report; the author himself now confesses to having made up some details.

Well, pointing fingers at those who write non-fiction accounts isn't new: Truman Capote faced flak over In Cold Blood, for example, and many in the school of New Journalism were accused of taking too much of a creative licence. (On a related note, many eyebrows were raised after Edmund Morris inserted a fictionalised version of himself into Dutch, his biography of Ronald Reagan.)

One's own take? As long as there's no obvious attempt to deceive (as seems to be the case with the hapless Mr Frey), let there be a new genre, that of fact embellished by fiction. Call it the non-fiction novel, or whatever. If it's well-written, evocative, charming or otherwise possessing literary merit, let it stand. Having said which, we can all now wait for Sir Vidia to pronounce judgement.

Update: Two points of view from The New York Times. The first, by Gay Talese: "Nonfiction takes no liberty with the facts, and it should not. I think all writers should be held accountable. The trouble with book publishers is that they don't have the staff or they don't want to have the staff to ensure the veracity of a writer. You could argue that they had better, or they're going to have more stories like this one. My wife is going to hate me for this, but that is what I believe."

And the second, by Nan Talese, his wife, and publisher of Frey's book: "Nonfiction is not a single monolithic category as defined by the best-seller list. Memoir is personal recollection. It is not absolute fact. It's how one remembers what happened. That is different from history and criticism and biography, and they cannot be measured by the same yardstick. I adore Gay, but this is a debate that we've been having for 40 years."


  • This is very similar to journalists making up quotes of regular people when it comes to doing a social trends story. The argument, probably, is "Hell, I KNOW this happens, but none of the people I have spoken to have really raised this point or put it as well as I could, so let me invent some new people and have them say it anyway. It's not like it's not true." Is that justified? I really don't know, especially if it does enrich the story and make it's point clearer.

    By Blogger The Marauder's Map, at 1:22 PM  

  • Interesting point, but if it's a news report it can't really be justified, can it? Perhaps it's a symptom of laziness and/or deadlines.

    By Blogger PrufrockTwo, at 2:42 PM  

  • I'm not talking of news reports, but more lengthy feature-type articles, which discuss a certain trend or social change. They are really not so different from non-fiction, are they? Maybe not biography but other forms of non-fiction.

    By Blogger The Marauder's Map, at 6:11 PM  

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