|Karen von Blixen-Finecke |
in Kenya, 1918
Pardon the doting digression; among the old, hoary passions often make unexpected, spectral reappearances, a bit like the beans we ate for lunch, and cause us to rumble—sorry, ramble. I do not plan to bore you here with accounts of my unsuccessful mid-life amours, but rather to suggest an experiment you may find amusing, and perhaps even instructive.
Novelists are often accused of writing about their own lives and acquaintances and calling it fiction, and there have been numerous lawsuits—some successful, others less so—based on this assumption. It’s true, as I said in my review of Shehan Karunatileka’s novel Chinaman, that personal experience and insight is the raw material we shape our work out of, but the relationship is not as direct as it often seems to the reader. Such verisimilitude is a result of the author’s craft and hard work. It’s what we do, we fathers and mothers of lies; we try to fool you it’s all real. Sometimes it works too well, and then you sue us. Or worse: vide the fates of Christopher Marlowe, Nabokov père and John Lennon.
|The other Karen|
By the time you’ve finished that book, you’ll have learnt that life in Happy Valley was nothing at all like it is portrayed in Out of Africa, and you will have formed your own judgements of Karen Blixen and the people she writes about. If you are a person of tender sensibilities, or a trusting disposition, you may be slightly shocked. You may never again believe a single word a novelist commits to print, and you will certainly be cured for ever of the foolish belief that what you read in novels is somehow true, no matter how many correspondences exist between the details of a story and its author’s life.