Novel Misconceptions

In a piece in Saturday’s Guardian Review on how he wrote The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi echoes Tolstoy’s (in my opinion contentious) dictum about happy families. Kureishi claims that, “All first novels are letters to one’s parents, telling them how it was for you, an account of things they didn’t understand or didn’t want to hear.”

Speak for yourself, mate.

This sort of statement can only encourage the lazy view some readers have that everything in a novel – especially a novel written in the first person – is somehow autobiographical. It leaves no space for invention, nor for imagination; only craft. And it belittles that craft. The recent vogue for autofiction of the Karl Ove Knausgård type is for that reason an unwelcome development as far as I’m concerned.

Of course aspects of a writer’s life may seep into her or his work – perhaps even subconsciously – and autobiographical incidents may appear there, in altered form or otherwise, but that is not to say that everything in a work emanates from that source. Inspiration can strike from anywhere, not merely the author’s own life and experiences.

Your first novel may have been written as a letter to your parents, Mr Kureishi. However, that is not true of everyone’s.

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  1. Martín McCallion

    I completely agreee.

    And it’s not like anyone would use a term for someone from their hometown as a title…

  2. jackdeighton

    Martin,
    Certainly, but was the novel concerned a disguised autobiography?
    It would be like someone from Dumfries naming a novel “The Doonhamers,” maybe even setting it in the town. It wouldn’t necessarily contain anything derived from the writer’s own life, only local knowledge.
    It might even be a little jest.

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