A certain best-selling novel (was Australia's favorite books)

Paul Andinach pandinac at ucc.gu.uwa.edu.au
Mon Dec 6 20:36:43 EST 2004

On Mon, 6 Dec 2004, Kyla Tornheim wrote:

[Th* D*V*nc* C*d*]

> I also objected to the descriptions of artwork, especially with the
> note in the beginning about "all descriptions are completely true,"
> because at least one piece is pretty oddly interpreted.

It's an interesting thing about that page at the beginning, which is
the only part of the book I've actually read (and the only part I've
had any desire to read).

I read it because of a talk Tim Powers did on writing secret histories
at Swancon this year[1], where he said that one of the signs of a bad
secret history is a notice at the front saying "This is all true"
(because it says something about the author's opinion of his readers
that he's prepared to begin by feeding them a bare-faced lie; and
because if the author has done his job properly the readers will
*know* it's all true without needing to be told).

It is especially a bad sign, he added, when the novel that begins with
such a notice turns out to be built on falsehoods so unsubtle that you
could start discovering them simply by opening an encyclopaedia, never
mind doing real research into the topic.

And of course he had a specific book in mind, and of course you know
what it was.

The interesting thing about this is that the notice at the front of
Th* D*V*nc* C*d* doesn't actually say "This is all true" (I felt
obliged to check the next time I was in a book shop). What it does is
assert the bits that *are* true - the existence of certain paintings,
certain organisations, and so on - but in such a way that the reader
is encouraged to assume that the rest is true as well; in such a way
that people remember it saying "This is all true", but without it
actually saying so.

I'm not sure whether this is better or worse than the bare-faced lie.

[1] I've met Tim Powers! Weehee! [2]

[2] Sorry.

"Hold fast to the one noble thing."

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