Welcome to the Reading Doctor!
We introduced this service last year and we welcome your questions again in 2021.
Read more about Dr Louise here. Send us your questions for her by emailing us: firstname.lastname@example.org
These novels all feature one character writing about the life of another, sometimes through formal research as an academic project, and sometimes constructing a biography from the kind of ephemera which silts up a family home. I enjoy the layering and mirroring which results, as one author writes another, as one character writes another, as one subject makes a subject of another. They draw attention to the act of writing, and to the ways in which any representation of a life and a person is always ever a partial and subjective construction, whether in fiction or non-fiction.
· Will is asked to take on the job of writing the biography of Lord Charles Nantwich, in The Swimming Pool Library by Alan Hollinghurst, distinguished by his time in the Foreign Service as an agent of the colonialist enterprise in Africa. In reading his papers, however, Will discovers details about his own history which reframe his understanding of his own life and times.
· A journalist who seeks to resurrect his blighted career is commissioned to write the biography of a hacker in Peter Carey’s Amnesia; his subject is uncooperative and elusive, while conspiracy and political corruption swirl around them both.
· In a midnight phone call, a penniless writer is offered a job as ghost writer of the memoir of a notorious criminal on the eve of his trial, in Richard Flanagan’s First Person, a charismatic man whose manipulation of the writer and the process of writing calls into question the very nature of truth.
· Nineas seeks a concrete project and so embarks on writing the biography of a biographer, but soon finds that facts are unreliable and a “whole” life is difficult to define, in The Biographer’s Tale by A S Byatt.
· The reader is placed in the position of biographer by Kirsty Gunn’s clever novel The Big Music, presented as a collection of found papers, appendices and notes, telling the story of the life of a dying composer.
· A talented young writer meets his literary idol and, over dinner at his home, catches tantalising glimpses of his life which he tries to piece into a fuller picture, in Philip Roth’s novel The Ghost Writer.
· A father writes and illustrates picture books featuring his young daughter in the debut novel by Polly Crosby, The Illustrated Child, which make her – or, a version of her – enormously famous. Her relationship to the character of herself – arrested in time and development – becomes increasingly complex, though, as does her discomfort with the evidence of how her father sees her.