Strait is the gate

Frank Kermode

  • Gorbals Boy at Oxford by Ralph Glasser
    Chatto, 184 pp, £11.95, May 1988, ISBN 0 7011 3185 3

It is said that one can’t hope to tell the truth in an autobiography, that the very desire to write one may be proof of an incapacity to do so veraciously. In any case there is likely to be a conflict between the writer’s wish to make sense of his or her life, and the need to cut, however modestly, a figure of interest to readers. Only people stupid and dishonourable in the way very bad writers are stupid and dishonourable would suppose that they could make sense of their lives by dispensing with the truth, but much better writers still need to practise certain economics; some extenuations or embellishments must be permitted, not necessarily as concessions to shame or vanity, but because any narrative requires them. The difference is not one of ordinary morality, but of the morality of fiction.

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