If Readers Sometimes Find It Hard to Respect the Boundaries between Fact and Fiction, It May Be Because Authors Have Deliberately Blurred Them

Article excerpt

Last week Nick Hornby's wife - from whom he has separated was doorstepped by a journalist from a tabloid paper. Interviewed in the Daily Telegraph, Hornby expressed understandable dismay at such a violation of privacy. "It seems extraordinary to me," he said, "that a paper would harass a mother looking after a handicapped child, but they do."

Why are they interested? Consider another famous role model, Brigitte Bardot. In the mid-fifties she came to represent a way of life associated with the French Mediterranean coast and particularly the previously obscure fishing village of Saint-Tropez. In Gilbert Adair's very funny book, Myths and Memories, in which he lists hundreds of things he happens to remember, number 362 is: "I remember when the French riviera seemed to me impossibly glamorous and inaccessible."

The irony is that the riviera now suggests tackiness, hordes of tourists, tawdry hotels. Things got so bad that in 1989 Bardot announced she was going to leave. She was already fed up with the squalor, the pollution, the guided tours going past her house, the homosexuals. But the final straw was when the local council banned dogs from the beach. The mayor did not back down. "Sure, Saint-Tropez is dying," he said. "But who attracted the vice and shamelessness here?"

Some writers attract personal attention, too. The idea was most famously stated by Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it."

Friends of Ted Hughes talked for years about his intense need for privacy, his horror at the invasion of his private life by critics and biographers speculating about his marriage to Sylvia Plath. But he self-evidently isn't private in the sense that most people understand it. Genuinely private people don't publish poems they have addressed to their late wives. …