There was and there was not

Jonathan Coe

Amos Oz and David Grossman are both political writers. This might seem an obvious statement, given that they are well-known for being politically vocal and have both written political (non-fiction) books consisting of interviews with their Palestinian and Israeli countrymen. But the main thing is that they also write intensely and truthfully political novels of the sort which tend to be thin on the ground in Britain. Partly, no doubt, this is a question of Israel’s history, and of the urgency of the material which it offers, but there’s also the possibility that when a writer decides to leap boldly into the area where ideology leaves off and action begins, significant analogies between political and literary activity start to emerge. One of them has to do with the nature of lies, because the fundamentalist Platonic position that ‘telling stories is telling lies’ has haunted the conscience of the imaginative writer for centuries. Even Sidney’s attempt to brush it off by claiming that the poet ‘nothing affirms, and therefore never lieth’ seems more than a little shifty: a real politician’s manoeuvre, in fact. It doesn’t deflect attention from the central link between politics and literature, which is that they both boil down to the art of lying in the name (supposedly) of a higher truth.

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