Since its publication The Thoughtful Dresserby Linda Grant has garnered a bit of feedback. It has been classified as fiction, but when you read the blurb for the book it sounds a lot like non fiction.
The Thoughtful Dresser tells us how a woman’s hat saved her life in nazi Germany, looks at the role of Department Stores in giving women a public place outside the home, savours the sheer joy of finding the right dress.
This is the point where I became very confused. When is fiction not fiction?
Author Iain Sinclair is a bit of an expert on this genre, we have his books but they aren’t exactly what you would call bestsellers, and when he describes his writing you can see why!
Sinclair’s own preferred classification is “documentary fiction”, which allows him plenty of elbow room: “where it needs to be true, it is”. “This is a story of fallible memory, inaccurate or inventive transcriptions, hard-earned prejudices, false starts and accidental epiphanies.”
So it would seem that Documentary fiction is based on fact (sort of) with a fair amount of liberty.
Sinclair in his latest book writes about the suburb of Hackney in London, and the people who inhabit it. Many of the characters in the book are real, (and Sinclair does use their actual names), but they possibly wouldn’t recognise themselves in the way that Sinclair has portrayed them. I find this all very curious. Why not base characters on actual people, (like a lot of novelists do), change the names, elaborate and expand where necessary, and call it fiction?
I would be interested to hear from those of you who had read either of these books to see what you think? Do they read like fiction, non fiction, or perhaps “faction”.
Editor’s note: Jane’s post has raised an interesting issue – some libraries have The Thoughtful Dresser catalogued as fiction, some as non-fiction. We are now moving it into non-fiction, as author Linda Grant has let us know her book is non-fiction rather than fiction.