What sets LitB apart is the use of (some) real historical citations, often first-person accounts. Saunders accomplishes a couple of different, even contrasting things this way. He establishes his verisimilitude, which is indeed impressive, while also calling into question the accuracy of first-hand accounts (most amusingly with the moon). Apparently the nonfiction "oral history" of Edie Sedgwick also features direct contradictions in first-hand accounts, which Saunders cited as an inspiration. I agree that the historical sections are indeed "superb." What did you two think of the spirits? (It has been pointed out that they are not really "ghosts" since no living person ever sees them.)
: I finished yesterday, so you two can go ahead
: with spoilers. I liked the book, and from
: what I've been reading of your postings I
: see that the first discussion is about the
: citations, real and invented, and then we
: will move on to the "ghost" part.
: Let me add my two cents to this discussion:
: as you were exchanging your thoughts on
: "history", "novel" and
: the space in between, usually called
: "non-fiction novel" (as "In
: Cold Blood"), I was reminded very much
: of Alexandre Dumas. I guess we can all agree
: that by the time Dumas wrote (the middle of
: the XIX Century), the "pure",
: fictional novel had been solidly
: established. However, Dumas made free use of
: true historical events and characters and
: intermingled them with the stories of his
: "purely" fictional characters.
: Now, there is a qualification to this last
: assertion: there WAS a real captain of
: musketeers called D'Artagnan, and his
: memoirs are extant, you can buy them and
: read them.
: Now, Dumas didn't expect his reasders to
: believe that what he told was
: "history", but perhaps he expected
: them to believe that his portrayal of
: historical characters was, at least,
: seriously debatable, that is, subject to
: opinion, but not "false":
: Richelieu would have been revered by some
: people and reviled by others, but no one
: would deny that he was a cunning, able
: statesman, a loyal ally and a fearsome foe.
: The same with Mazarino: a cowardly miser, or
: the saviour of the monarchy during the
: infancy of Louis XIV, but certainly a lesser
: figure than Richelieu. I could go on, but my
: point is that there IS something that is not
: history not purely fiction (remember Hilary
: Mantel's saga about Thomas Cromwell).
: Since you can not pierce the minds of
: historical characters beyond, say their
: letters, the novelist allows him/herself to
: imagine their intimate thoughts and emotions
: to try to make sense of their actions.
: I think LitB is a superb example of this
: effort, always conscious of memory's
: failings and the unavoidable opposition of
: points of view. Lincoln, too, is revered by
: some and reviled by others, and the
: circumstances attending Willie's death would
: have to be necessarily polemical.
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