Sunday, 1 March 2009

Non-Fiction, a deluded genre

One of the bestsellers is my department right now is Eten, Bidden en Beminnen aka Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert so I decided to give it a try. It has already sold over 5 million copies world wide and lately it's all woman (luckily few of whom I hold in esteem) seem to talk about. Basically Gilbert talks about her struggles after her divorce and how she decided to make a trip to Italy, India and Indonesia to get her shit together, putting it bluntly anyway. In Italy she finds physical nourishment, in India the spiritual kind and in Indonesia the emotional variety, turning her into a whole new and balanced woman.

Now after having read about her "struggle" I can't keep wondering what would have possessed her to think we actually care and secondly why 5 million plus people around the world actually do? Aren't these "going away and finding yourself" tales old news? Personally her novel only irritated me like most non-fiction does. The reason I'm not fond of the genre (despite the occasional biography or historic document) is because reality basically doesn't interest me that much which I know, is an odd thing to say. Everyone probably knows someone who's had a bad divorce, tragic accident, crippling disease, troubled childhood, breakdown,... I for one have already personally witnessed all of these which leads me to conclude: where's the news value? Why write about something we've all heard a million times before and why think that someone actually cares about your personal strife?

There are actual people out there who have had amazing or even horrifying things happen to them, sometimes numerous times and should raise our awareness. There are people who have experienced things we can't imagine and maybe don't even want to imagine but through their writing they are able to open our eyes to things we couldn't possibly understand otherwise. I'd even encourage someone (you know who you are) to do so.

So as you can see my feelings towards non-fiction are a bit ambivalent: on the one hand I think it's necessary and can be enlightening but one the other hand there are so many Tom, Dick, Harry, Janes and Elizabeths who flood the world with their sorry and pathetic tales making me wonder why should I care? So you had a bad divorce? Who hasn't? So you went to India to find yourself? Lucky you! You were able to travel around the world for an entire year meditating and afterwards received millions of dollars (did I mention she also got a movie deal? Julia Roberts is playing her in the film) while most women stay behind heart-broken and penniless.

This is why Gilbert strikes me as a tad arrogant preaching her tale of fictional hope to the common woman. She hurts just like us, the only difference is several million dollars. Non-fiction like this just annoys me and makes me appreciate fiction even more. An author who is able to create characters, situations, emotions even worlds who do not exist but touch us or seem like they could really be out there (albeit in some parallel universe) deserve more respect, applause and admiration than some whiney yoga obsessed blonde if you ask me.

Now, the ironic twist I'd like to end with is the fact that Eat, Pray, Love was being promoted as non-fiction or even a memoir in the States. When it finally reached our turbulent Belgian shores we immediately labeled it as fiction making me think once again: Belgians can be such idiots sometimes. But as it turns out, we were right all along seeing as these things don't happen. Not here at least.

No comments: