Robert McCrum considers an issue that this blog has touched on more than once: the troubling need in our contemporary cultural climate for fiction to pass itself off as 'authentic' - increasingly in terms of factual authenticity. He quotes from the author's note in Andrew Miller's Costa-winning Pure: 'This is a work of imagination, a work that combines the actual with the invented' and notes the 'queasiness' of this apparent sense of the need for a defence of the novelist's right to invent, imagine and play fast and loose with historical and social fact. As McCrum says, 'When the novel was young and confident, inventiveness was its raison d'etre. Not now.' David Edgar's recent piece in The Guardian made reference to the extent to which this trend has affected radio drama even more strongly, with its proliferation of factually-based plays about well-known events or disasters or incidents in the lives of famous people. And of course we needn't mention the dreary ubiquity of 'reality' TV shows.
It's interesting. On the one hand we have this over-dependence on the comfort of 'fact', and on the other the fantasy worlds of Harry Potter and virtual gaming. What we can't seem to deal with is the inventive re-imagining of our recognisably real world that makes us look at it differently and uncovers truths we may not have previously noticed. This, ironically, is not an embracing of reality but a withdrawal from it.