Category Archives: Fiction

The highest form of flattery? In praise of plagiarism

Echoes of Amélie in Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, traces of Nabokov in Kristen Roupenian’s Cat Person … Where is the line between influence and plagiarism?

The age of the internet, where everything is connected, has made plagiarism both easier to commit and more difficult to hide, as many a student has discovered. It has also exposed writers to new levels of examination, such as the recent allegations that Emma Cline, author of the best-selling novel The Girls, took ideas for the book from her ex-boyfriend’s emails, and the various claims that Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar contender, The Shape of Water, is based on a 1969 play, Let Me Hear You Whisper, or has copied scenes from two French films, Amélie and Delicatessen – allegations which Del Toro, or his representatives, have denied.

Two short stories published in the past few months also raise contemporary, as well as age-old, questions about influence and debt in works of fiction. Where exactly is the line between homage, reference, fair borrowing, and plagiarism? And is acknowledging such debts enough – or necessary?

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Source: gad

The parent trap: can you be a good writer and a good parent?

Doris Lessing left her marriage and children to write. Seventy-five years on, Lara Feigel examines the author’s maternal ambivalence and explores her own struggle to balance motherhood and freedom

When I tell people that I’m writing a book about freedom and Doris Lessing, their first response is often the same. “Didn’t she abandon her children?” Implicit is the assumption that freedom, in whatever complex ways she sought it, came at too high a cost: she paid the price of unwomanliness, even of monstrousness. When I say I’m writing the book partly as a memoir, and that it began with a process of intense identification with Lessing, I feel implicated in the judgment. Defending her actions, stressing that they didn’t result from a straightforward absence of maternal love, it can feel as though I’m admitting to such a deficiency myself.

It’s partly because these questions are so difficult that I decided to write my book as a memoir and to investigate Lessing’s attempts to seek social, sexual, political and psychological freedom through the lens of my own life. The book began with a summer of going to too many weddings while reading The Golden Notebook, Lessing’s 1962 exploration of the artistic and sexual life of a “free woman” prepared to sacrifice happiness for liberation.

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Ebooks are not 'stupid' – they're a revolution

The head of publisher Hachette has claimed ebooks are a failure – but as an author and a reader, they’ve completely changed my life

I was a relatively late convert to the e-reader, getting my Kindle five years ago when it became clear that reading 600-pages of A Suitable Boy while breastfeeding wasn’t going to work. After a frenzied few months of almost exclusive e-reading, I returned largely to the traditional printed book for a number of reasons: screen fatigue, a tendency to scrawl in margins, because I want my kids to see me reading, and because I’m a passionate supporter of bookshops and booksellers. Hachette Livre CEO Arnaud Nourry recently called ebooks “stupid” – but last summer, they changed my life.

Related: ‘Ebooks are stupid’, says head of one of world’s biggest publishers

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How I beat anorexia by savouring the lavish meals of literature

Laura Freeman had the eating disorder since her teens, but the enticing food conjured by Charles Dickens and Laurie Lee set her free

Laura Freeman was first diagnosed with anorexia aged 14. A decade later she had begun to rebuild her life but still struggled with her attitude to food, eating small portions of the same thing for months on end. “At 24, I’d got to the point where I was recovered enough that I could eat, but only in a very formulaic way,” she says. “I had a pretty boring diet. It was more about getting through each day.”

Then one day she read a passage in Siegfried Sassoon’s 1928 Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man describing “a breakfast of boiled eggs eaten in winter”. It changed everything.

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Source: gad

Home by Amanda Berriman review – a child’s view of family poverty

A four-year-old narrator powerfully brings home the fears of living life on the edge

You already know Jesika, the four-year-old protagonist of Amanda Berriman’s debut. You will have seen her with her mum and baby brother squeezing a buggy laden with shopping bags on to the bus. Maybe you know them from the supermarket aisles, the mum exhausted and close to snapping, silently doing sums in her head. Jesika and her family live on the edge. They are scraping by, renting a slum flat in dangerous disrepair. One stroke of bad luck could push them into the abyss – and they face more than a few pushes in this book.

It is Jesika’s naive voice that tells this story of a family moving ever closer to disaster. Her first-person narration features childlike logic and rhythms of thought, misinterpreted and compacted words. On night falling, she says:

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Pushing back: why it's time for women to rewrite the story

Poe, Updike, Roth, Mailer: many male authors have contributed to a culture in which the credibility of women is undermined. It’s time to put a stop to the gaslighting, writes Sarah Churchwell

In 1938 a play debuted at the Richmond theatre, which opens with a Victorian husband telling his wife that though she has been “very good lately”, she mustn’t “read meanings into everything” or “imagine things”. “Is it possible you’re beginning to see my point of view?” she asks. On the contrary: her husband is systematically working to extinguish her perspective, to convince her that she is mad. Every night as he searches their attic (for jewels he believes are there), his movements cause the gas lamps to flicker.

In Patrick Hamilton’s play, the flickering lamps verify the wife’s suspicions; in the Hollywood film of Gas Light, released six years later, they make her further doubt her own senses. “Gaslighting” soon came to denote psychological warfare, the deliberate undermining of another’s sanity. More recently, it has been resuscitated as a metaphor for the cultural sabotage of women’s perceptions, for trivialising their concerns as imaginary. Gaslighting is about women fighting to get men to see their point of view.

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Don’t Skip Out on Me by Willy Vlautin review – a meditation on loneliness

This bruising yet surprisingly tender tale of urban isolation shines a light on the drifters and the broken-down

Hector Hidalgo is a young Mexican boxer who wants to turn professional. Only “Hector Hidalgo” doesn’t exist – he’s the persona of Horace Hopper, a 21-year-old ranch hand born to a Native American father and an Irish mother who is desperate to escape his own stifling sense of failure. The trouble with reinventing oneself is that it involves leaving other people behind, and US novelist and musician Willy Vlautin’s fifth novel is a meditation on loneliness, in which the outer and inner landscapes ring with a sound akin to desolation.

Horace lives in Nevada on the Reese ranch, having been taken in as a teenager by Mr Reese and his wife, now in their 70s. Mr Reese wants Horace to take over the ranch but Horace feels unworthy of such trust, gnawed at by his mother’s abandonment of him, aged 12, to his Irish grandmother, who is sketched with Vlautin’s typical blunt strokes as a woman who “drank Coors light on ice from 11am until she fell asleep on the couch at nine, who chain-smoked cigarettes, who ate only frozen dinners, and who was scared of Indians, blacks and Mexicans”.

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Top 10 errant teenagers in fiction

From Infinite Jest’s antsy prodigy to Brighton Rock’s haunted antihero, debut novelist Danny Denton picks the best bad girls and boys in books

A few years back, I started teaching secondary school and was suddenly reintroduced to the hysterical world of the teenager. Returned to me was their constant turmoil, bubbling beneath the surface, bursting to be heard, screaming to be left alone. Reading their essays (I taught English), I was struck by the fact that, as a teenager, everything feels at stake, every day. These essays featured stabbings, murders, suicides, love, zombies, global disasters … These were the tropes of the adolescent (though in some cases these were lived realities too – it was a neglected borough of London), and by extension perhaps the most suitable creative expressions for raging hormones.

The teenager endures an awful state in which innocence is daily lost but the mystery of selfhood remains unsolved. The world is increasingly known, but the emotional capacity, vocabulary and maturity to process it haven’t yet been fully acquired. Or perhaps the teen’s particular brand of indignation is the appropriate response to this fraying world. Either way, it is no wonder so many teens err en route to adulthood. In writing The Earlie King & the Kid in Yellow – a novel that would be about a heroic act in a fallen society – it seemed to me that only a teenager would possess enough love, hope, hate, fear, outrage, naivety and bravery to take the action required of the myth.

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Ursula K Le Guin by David Mitchell: ‘She was a crafter of fierce, focused, fertile dreams’

The Cloud Atlas author and Earthsea devotee reflects on his encounters with a formidable and pioneering novelist

News: Ursula K Le Guin dies aged 88

I only met Ursula K Le Guin the once, and her first words were a sly, “Oho, David, so this is an assignation!” She had a wicked smile and, as the Irish say, a face full of devilment. It was 2010, and we’d been left in a nondescript office of a bookshop in Portland, Oregon. I was in town to give a reading at the end of a US book tour. Quite how my American publicist had persuaded the unbiddable Ursula – who, doing the maths, was 80 – to give up a perfectly good evening for the sake of a passing British novelist, I have no idea; yet there she was.

Meeting your idols is a risky business – as Flaubert notes, the gold paint tends to come off on your fingers – but my 90 minutes chatting with Ursula only convinced me that the gold was genuine. She was not a glad sufferer of fools, it was clear, and you’d not want to cross her, but her graciousness that afternoon was unflagging. I gushed, of course. I told her how her Earthsea books had, as a boy, shown me how I wanted to spend my life – crafting worlds as real, as full and as irresistible as hers, or die trying. (Ursula observed that you could get away with princes and wizards in the 1960s and 70s, but by the 21st century they had become “cute”.) I told her how The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness struck me not merely as classily written novels where nuanced characters explore worlds both like and unlike ours, and survive not by force but by wit, cooperation and sacrifice. More than this, they dream into existence new ways for people to live. In old money, they are visions. (What could any author say to that except: “You’re welcome”?)

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Top 10 books about the body

From the horrors of Frankenstein to the wit of Sara Pascoe’s Animal, novelist Emma Glass picks her favourite reading about the wonders of the human body

We can’t live without them, but we are sometimes unkind to our bodies. We eat the wrong things, drink, smoke, don’t exercise. Or we don’t eat anything, or we do too much and carelessly break our bones. But our bodies are incredible, adaptive, functional, beautiful. We can heal by ourselves, we can think, feel pleasure, taste and rest.

Related: Peach by Emma Glass review – potent debut

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