Novels both lie and express a curious truth

Novels both lie and express a curious truth
Mario Varga Llosa in 1985.

The writer Mario Varga Llosa has won the Nobel prize. Here are a few excerpts from an essay he wrote for The New York Times in 1984. I like his idea that lying – traditionally associated with the Devil – actually documents our own driving demons, the demons that intoxicate us and make our lives more tolerable.

Ever since I wrote my first short story, people have asked if what I wrote ‘was true…’

Whether novels are accurate or false is as important to certain people as whether they’re good or bad, and many readers, consciously or unconsciously, link the two together….

In fact, novels do lie – they can’t help doing so – but that’s only one part of the story. The other is that, through lying, they express a curious truth, which can only be expressed in a veiled and concealed fasion, masquerading as what it is not. This statement has the ring of gibberish. But actually it’s quite simple. Men are not content with their lot and nearly all – rich or poor, brilliant or mediocre, famous or obscure – would like to have a life different from the one they lead. To (cunningly) appease this appetite, fiction was born. It is written and read to provide human beings with lives they’re unresigned to not having. The germ of every novel contains an element of non-resignation and desire…

At the heart of all fictional work there burns a protest. Their authors created them since they were unable to live them, and their readers (and believers) encounter in these phantom creatures the faces and adventures needed to enhance their own lives. That is the truth expressed by the lies in fiction – the lies that we ourselves are, the lies that console us and make up for our longings and frustrations. How trustworthy then is the testimony of a novel on the very society that produced it? Were those men really that way? They were, in the sense that that was how they wanted to be, how they envisioned themselves loving, suffering and rejoicing. Those lies do not document their lives but rather their driving demons – the dreams that intoxicated them and made the lives they led more tolerable. An era is not populated merely by flesh and blood creatures, but also by the phantom creatures into which they are transformed in order to break the barriers that confine them…

Is Fiction the Art of Living? The New York Times (the article’s unfortunately riddled with typos)>>

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