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Pickle Me This

August 20, 2006

Non fiction

Here for Joan Didion in The Observer. And Toni Collette too! Hilary Mantel reviews Andrew O’Hagen’s new book. Margaret Atwood in The Globe.

I am reading Possession by AS Byatt, which I purchased at the Nottingham Oxfam in late 2002 and read voraciously during the odd Christmas I spent in Cambridge with my friend’s brother-in-law’s extended family. I think Bronwyn may have read it around the same time, and even if she didn’t, we loved it much together. I keep having to put it another room because if it’s at arm’s length, I will pick it up and read it, and nothing will ever get done. At the moment, the idea of inventing history is resonating with me. I just completed a story about a girl who works as a “historical interpreter” at a pioneer house in small-town Ontario, what I’ve really enjoyed inventing the history of that house and the people who lived there. Susanna Moodie and Catherine Parr Traill were my inspiration (I grew up in Peterborough after all) but the rest I made up, as you do, and there is something in the detail necessary for such an endeavour that I find irresistible. I think Virginia Woolf felt similarly, her short story “The Diary of Mistress Joan Martyn” makes that evident. And I feel like Byatt must have read Woolf’s story before she wrote her novel, and had it in even the very backest of her mind. I love the creation necessary for rendering Ash and Christabel Lamotte, and the liberties Byatt would have had with them. I love that the air of history about them gives their story an authenticity that fiction usually lacks. I love it for the same reason I enjoyed creating fake newspapers when I was ten years old. There is something quite delicious in making a reality right out of thin air, which of course one does with every story, but the obviousness of this exercise is why it’s so much fun. The line between fact and fiction is not just blurred, but suddenly there is no line at all, nor was there ever such a thing.

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