Autobiography as fiction

Yesterday I quoted from an essay Patchett wrote for Powell’s in which she said that she “liked the fact that no one would ever finish one of my novels and know anything more about me than they did before they started.”

The same could not be said of two novelists discussed in last Sunday’s Guardian: Jeanette Winterson and B.S. Johnson, both of whom have drawn abundantly from their lives for their novels. In an excellent review of Jonathan Coe’s bio of Johnson (which incidentally, sounds amazing), Rachel Cooke writes: “[Johnson] cared nothing for the imagination. A person could write only from experience. ‘Telling stories is telling lies,’ as he put it in his second novel, Albert Angelo.”

Maya Jaggi profiles Winterson, who in the ‘90s grew as famous for her lifestyle as her fiction. For herself, Winterson says: “When I’m writing my books I let life pour into them; we keep our wounds with us. Psychotherapy babble is that you can dig them out and move on, but it’s the wound that gives you the strength to go forward. Your weak point is the open, vulnerable place where you can always be hurt. Love, in all its aspects, opens the self so fully.” Her new novel, the eighth, is called Lighthousekeeping.


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