Chapter 2

Documentary fiction

D.M. Thomas, The White Hotel

Although different in many respects from Martin Amis's Time's Arrow, D.M. Thomas's The White Hotel has several complementary features. Like Amis's, Thomas's novel has a central Holocaust-related intertext-Anatoli Kuznetsov's 'historical novel' Babi Yar, and other intertexts as well-Freud's case histories, letters and journals. 1 Most strikingly, its narrative is affected by a particular view of time and history, just as the narrative form of Time's Arrow was (de)formed by its allegiance to an anti-backshadowing perception of time. As well as repeating motifs and incidents, The White Hotel looks forward rather than backward, making it another narrative satire on backshadowing. The novel consists of a prologue-letters between the fictional Freud and his contemporaries about the fantasies of one of his women patients, written between the staves of Mozart's opera Don Giovanni-and six sections. 'Don Giovanni' is a first-person account of a woman's sexual fantasies, in poetic form. 'The Gastein Journal' is the fantasied prose version of the same scenario of sexual love and disaster at a white hotel, in the third person but written from the woman's point of view; it later emerges that this is Lisa Erdman's diary. 2 'Frau Anna G.' is the case history of Lisa Erdman, written and narrated by Thomas's Freud, including details of her puzzling physical symptoms. The Health Resort' is the third-person account of the vagaries of Lisa's life after her analysis. In 'The Sleeping Carriage', which takes place some years later, the last few days of Lisa's life are narrated: she lives in a poor part of Nazi-occupied Kiev, and is killed in the Babi Yar massacre. Her 'hysterical' symptoms turn out to be real injuries. The Camp' is an after-life fantasy in which wounds begin to heal, told by a third-person narrator.

Like Time's Arrow, The White Hotel had a very polarized reception from critics and readers, which Thomas himself described as 'astonishing extremes of response'. 3 It was received enthusiastically in some quarters in Britain, where it was nominated for the Booker and Cheltenham Prizes, and had an even more enthusiastic reception in the States which prompted further plaudits in Britain. Sylvia Kantaris relates a story of New Yorkers seen wearing an 'I've stayed at the White Hotel' T-shirt, and in the early 1980s there were plans for a film version of the novel. 4The White Hotel at first attracted mutedly critical notices because of a content which was Holocaust-related but also judged by some to be pornographic.

-38-

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Holocaust Fiction
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Introduction 1
  • Chapter 1 - Formal Matters 11
  • Chapter 2 - Documentary Fiction 38
  • Chapter 3 - Autobiographical Fiction 67
  • Chapter 4 - Faction 90
  • Chapter 5 - Melodrama 117
  • Chapter 6 - Historical Polemic 141
  • Conclusion 161
  • Notes 168
  • Bibliography 229
  • Index 233
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