Why Novelize a Novelist’s Life?

by Rachel Baker on October 6, 2014

In doing some further research on Colm Tóibín, I ran across this article that was posted today at the New Yorker.

Its an interesting look at what we might be able to understand of a novelist by reading a novel about his/her life. I had never considered this question because I didn’t consider a novel could be that incredibly different from a biography of said novelists life. After reading this, I feel the need to add at least the Tóibín and Lodge books (mentioned below) to next year’s reading book stack.

This is Why Novelize a Novelist’s Life?

But can a novel about Forster give us more insight into the writer’s process than his biographers—from P. N. Furbank to Wendy Moffatt—already have? There’s been a trend, in recent years, of novels based on the biographies of novelists. If some readers might recoil from the genre, the success of writers such as Colm Tóibín (who novelized the life of Henry James) and David Lodge (who also wrote a fictional account of James, as well as of H. G. Wells) suggest that a fictionalized life can revivify even the most heavily biographized writers—or at least those from the turn of the nineteenth century. One key to such novels’ appeal might be that writers like James lived in a time period just on the other side of Pound and Eliot and Joyce (and Faulkner and Stein); they are near enough to admire, but distant enough to be fodder for fiction. What is surprising is just how well they actually do provide the stuff of a novel. As Galgut’s book shows, the constraints on form when a novelist is obliged to be true to life can be weirdly liberating.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to Become a Patron or to follow on Twitter.

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