I’ve always had immense respect for writers who were capable of putting themselves on paper. A bit of disdain (and jealousy) always went with that, because you cannot bare yourself without baring others. But then again, most writers have to be selfish, self-righteous pricks to a certain degree, don’t they?
I have read two such books recently, Crazy for Vincent by Herve Guibert and Intimacy by Hanif Kureishi. These books defy fiction and still you cannot read them as anything but. Pieces of people’s lives disguised as fiction strike me as something beyond fiction. How much of it is real? Is the fragmented, disconnected style a by-product of trying to hide as much as you reveal, or is it a conscious choice to enhance the realism of depicting human emotional life?
How much of it is a result of compulsion, and how much a choice of the author? Can we talk about plot, characterisation or structure? Can we rate a person’s life just because they decided to put it in a book?
250 Pages – a Million Questions
The two books total at a bit over 250 pages, yet they have left me with so many questions – about life and nature of literature, its purpose and function – both personal and civilizational. Is literature meant to entertain or educate? Even if an author decides on the purpose, is it even important – being so dependent on what the reader is bringing into the process?
Different or Not
Different yet eerily similar (and familiar!), both Crazy for Vincent and Intimacy show that most of us (if not all) are broken, in disrepair – searching for meaning, love or something like it.
The paper is not covered with ink it’s covered in scars – especially in Crazy for Vincent. Guibert is more self-aware. Unlike Kureishi, he is not self-aggrandizing (even when he’s trying to be contrite). Guibert does not try to justify himself or his story, while I felt Kureishi had the need to prove that he is a “good man” by the same bourgeoisie standards he’s failing/refusing to meet.
The fact that I could see a reflection of myself in these stories complicates things further. More questions arise, because they have managed to elevate a deeply personal experience to a more universal level (at least in my case). We’re talking about male authors. One of them is obsessed with his young gay lover (simplification!), the other is trying to rationalize his decision to leave his wife and two sons. Not very relatable in my case, yet the emotional level, the raw material is malleable.
Ethics of Fiction
I’ve read a review of Intimacy on Goodreads which made me pause and which is closely related to my intro. Does a writer have an obligation to protect those he includes (exploits) in the service of his writing? Should Kureishi have masked the autobiographical elements of Intimacy to protect his family and friends? All valid questions, but I consider them unimportant, because even if Kureishi “tweaked” his life in order to be nice (?), a book like this would have brought about the same questions as the “untweaked” version.
I believe that if you choose to be a (certain type of) writer and you actually succeed in becoming one, you have to be prepared to be judged and called “unethical” or “selfish and self-righteous “.