How Do You React to the Term "Nonfiction Novel"


  • Martta Karol - 9 years ago

    I would be concerned about the term being confusing--at best. (I'm sure people in the literary world would have less polite terms for it.) The term is, grammatically, an oxymoron (defined when Googled as "a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g., faith unfaithful kept him falsely true)." The example just given sounds silly, doesn't it? Well, so does "non-fiction novel" to those who understand the precise meaning of fiction versus non-fiction, and understand a novel as fiction, even though there are some novels which are fictionalized versions of true stories. Readers need to know what they are reading. And there are, in fact, potentially serious legal implications which arise when the distinctions are not clear. I'm afraid the term wouldn't indicate "like cake AND ice cream," since a "non-fiction novel" would be similar in meaning to an "unfaithful person of faith." I understand the wish to distinguish dramatic narrative non-fiction stories from other non-fiction, but the term non-fiction novel seems not the best solution to me. Just my "two-cents' worth" of thoughts on it. Interesting discussion. I've struggled with multiple posts on my own website,, just trying to clarify the distinctions between types of fiction: genre, mainstream, and literary. It can all be pretty confusing.

  • Irene Hoge Smith - 9 years ago

    I love/hate it. The negative side is it feels like a capitulation by memoirists, as if we are agreeing not to write our subjective truths, because of the inherent limitations of memory. "Never mind. I'll call it a kind of novel."

  • Jacqueline Doyle - 9 years ago

    I love work that plays out on the boundaries of fiction and creative nonfiction. I just read Jayne Anne Phillips' Quiet Dell, which I would call a nonfiction novel (she calls it a novel, but does a nice job of differentiating the nonfiction and the fiction in her author's note). Sigrid Nunez calls A Feather on the Breath of a God a novel, though it seems to be creative nonfictional memoir (a cumbersome term). Tim O'Brien famously calls The Things They Carried a novel, though it's something more interesting than that. Calling books like these nonfiction novels works for me.

  • Brandon Schrand - 9 years ago

    It's interesting, if nothing else. Remember that Truman Capote called IN COLD BLOOD precisely that: a nonfiction novel. The larger issue here is that we seem to lack an adequate name for long-form narrative nonfiction that isn't easily couched on the memoir shelf, for instance. I like Mary Collins's remark about the ice-cream and cake being distinctly labeled. So long as the author is clear with her audience where the hard facts end, and the imaginative leaps begin, then I am okay with that. Willy-nilly invention does not belong under that vast umbrella of nonfiction, obviously.

  • R Shea - 9 years ago

    Non-sense marketing. Worthy of D'Agata's dissembling.

  • Sheila Webster Boneham - 9 years ago

    I don't like the term. I think it muddies the already murky distinction between "factual information as understood by the author" and "non-fact," especially if there is no explanation of the term as used with a particular book. That said, seeing that label on a book would neither attract nor repel me, because authors often have no say about the labels that publishers (marketers) slap on our books. I would want a statement somewhere, though, that tells me whether the work is presented as fiction or nonfiction.

  • Tim Glinski - 9 years ago

    My initial negative reaction comes from the fact that nonfiction, which is supposed to be true stuff, seems like it would lose value by blending it with a novel. Actually, isn't that like a novel that has some true things included?

  • Mary Collins - 9 years ago

    I'd LOVE it. Like cake AND ice cream. As long as the ingredients were clearly labelled.

Leave a Comment

0/4000 chars

Submit Comment