Christine Angot, her husband's ex-girlfriend and the cardinal sin of fiction: not actually making it up

As writers from Kureishi to Bainbridge have found, the business of writing real people into novels is tricky, especially if theirs is a real-life story you’re dying to tell

Share

Fans of the French novelist Christine Angot praise her “courageous” writing, her skilful conflations of fiction and autobiography, her “challenging” of social taboos. Critics say she’s guilty of introspective narcissism. This week, a criminal court in Paris found her guilty of the cardinal sin of fiction writing: not making it up at all.

For the transgressions in her new book The Little Ones, Ms Angot, right, had to pay £34,000 damages to Elise Bidoit, the former girlfriend of her current partner, Charly Clovis.

Poor Elise has come to dread opening any new novel by Ms Angot. She keeps finding a very thinly disguised version of herself, her father, her ex-boyfriend and her four children in them, with all their faults laid bare – even extracts from real-life social-service reports on the kids. Details of Elise’s life – the kind of things only an ex-intimate would know – are interspersed with episodes which may be taken as true by the reader.

At the trial, the author’s defence ingeniously suggested that such narrative liberties were part of a French literary tradition of grubby realism, and argued that Ms Angot’s creative freedom should be upheld.

It didn’t wash. The judges decided she had pinched chunks of Elise’s life and used them to create a caricature. In a wonderfully pretentious Gallic phrase, they argued that Ms Angot hadn’t converted the real person into “a character expressing ‘a truth’ that belongs solely to her”. (And of course, Ms Angot had done the same thing to the hapless Elise in a previous book, The Lover Market, five years earlier and had to settle out of court to the tune of €10,000.

Such appropriations of reality for writerly use aren’t exclusively French, of course. Literary history is full of novels featuring characters too close to real life for the comfort of the portrayed. The journalist David Sexton threatened to sue the publishers of his ex-beloved Amanda Craig’s A Vicious Circle in 1996 because he believed it contained an unflattering portrayal of him.

Hanif Kureishi’s Intimacy charted the reasons why the narrator leaves his wife and children shortly after the author did exactly that. His sister later attacked him for exploiting their family’s history in The Buddha of Suburbia but also (confusingly) for fabricating some of it.

It’s tricky, this business of writing real people into novels, especially if theirs is a real-life story you’re dying to tell. Best, perhaps, to take the advice of the late great Beryl Bainbridge, who wanted to write about her feelings for her chronically warring parents. She started writing her first novel, Harriet Said, “but my parents were alive and I didn’t want to hurt them”, she later confessed. “So I took the plot out of the newspaper about these two girls who killed their mother…”

Got that, Mme Angot? Lay a lot of smoke in future. And for God’s sake, don’t mention les enfants.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Operational Risk Manager - Asset Management

£60,000 - £80,000: Saxton Leigh: Our client is an leading Asset Manager based...

Year 5/6 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Permanent Year 6 TeacherThe job:This...

KS1 & KS2 Teachers

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: KS1+KS2 Teachers required ASAP for l...

Year 2 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 2 Teacher The position is to wo...

Day In a Page

 

In Sickness and in Health: Waking up to my 4am witching hour of worry

Rebecca Armstrong
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album
Hugh Bonneville & Peter James: 'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'

How We Met: Hugh Bonneville & Peter James

'Peter loves his classic cars; I've always pootled along fine with a Mini Metro. I think I lack his panache'
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's heavenly crab dishes don't need hours of preparation

Bill Granger's heavenly crab recipes

Scared off by the strain of shelling a crab? Let a fishmonger do the hard work so you can focus on getting the flavours right
Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

Radamel Falcao: How faith and love drive the Colombian to glory

After a remarkable conversion from reckless defender to prolific striker, Monaco's ace says he wants to make his loan deal at Old Trafford permanent
Terry Venables: Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England

Terry Venables column

Premier League managers must not be allowed to dictate who plays and who does not play for England
The Inside Word: Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past

Michael Calvin's Inside Word

Brendan Rodgers looks to the future while Roy Hodgson is ghost of seasons past