Doris Lessing: Fiction & Truth

I came across this quote in Doris Lessing’s autobiography. I’m not sure if it’s completely true but I find it interesting to contemplate. Certainly, I believe fiction can capture emotional truths in a powerful way, but the best non-fiction can also do this. What do you think?

7 thoughts on “Doris Lessing: Fiction & Truth”

  1. Hi Annabel! Long time reader, first time (I think) commenter! Your post today made me think of a recent interview with Richard Flanagan, which I listened to yesterday. His interviews are always rewarding listening and he had this to say about the role of fiction in truth-telling, which your post reminded me of:

    “It’s said now that reality has outstripped fiction, and that fiction can’t deal with this new reality, but it’s not so….more than ever, we need to rediscover what the truth is, we need to honour it. And I genuinely believe in the novel as one of the great spiritual, intellectual and aesthetic traditions and at its best it speaks to fundamental truths about the human condition. It’s not that it has answers but… it asks the necessary questions we need to ask, of ourselves and of our times.”

    I think you’d enjoy the interview – I certainly did 🙂

    And having written a memoir that started life as a novel, I told the truth in both incarnations….but ironically, publishing a memoir that has details of real people (who may not wish to be identified) in it did entail a bit of disguise, so in that respect there was probably a bit more truth in the fictional version!

    And thank you to you and Jane for writing the ‘What To Expect When You’re Expecting A Book’ Series – I wish it’d been around when my book was coming out, but thanks to you both I’ll definitely know what to do next time!

    All best wishes, Philippa x

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Philippa, and your kind words about me and Jane’s blog series. I do always enjoy hearing Richard Flanagan speak about writing and his comments definitely ring true for me – and so beautifully expressed too. Interesting to hear your experience too, with attempting to tell a true story in both modes!

      1. Yes, I heard that interview with Flanagan last week too, and I thought, YES, YES, YES. It’s exactly how I view literature. Flanagan is always great to listen to, I agree.

        I think we could spend hours picking apart the words in Lessing’s statement, defining each one – what’s “fiction”, what’s “the truth”, and what’s “a better job”. However, if we distinguish “truth” from “facts”, which I do, then I think fiction can do as good a job and very often a better job, because it can imagine freely and not be tied down to facts and reality. I could write a long comment on this but will leave it here!

        1. Yes, some of those words are quite slippery aren’t they? But I think you’re right – ‘truth’ is not the same as ‘facts’ and fiction is certainly good at getting wo what we might think of as emotional truths. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to leave a comment.

  2. Too long to repeat here, but Richard Flanagan contemplates this question not only in his most recent novel ‘First Person’ but in the talks he is currently delivering on the marketing trail. Worth checking out. But basically I’d suggest that as the truth is mostly multi-faceted, then fiction’s ability to permit us glimpses into more than one view has to go a long way towards making Lessing’s statement closer to being right than wrong.

    1. Hi Wendy, Philippa Moore else also mentioned Richard Flanagan’s talks, which sound really interesting. I think you’re right about the truth being multi-faceted, and the way fiction can convey that – perhaps not ‘the truth’ but ‘a truth’. Makes me think too of the Camus quote: fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.

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