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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory