is fiction a lie?

Pet peeve – being introduced as a novelist and promptly called a liar. I don’t know who thought this was cute to begin with (I’m lookin’ at you, Albert Camus), but I’m taking issue with it. Merriam-Webster defines a lie as 1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.  2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.

When someone has a novel in their hands, they know it’s just a story (unless it’s by James Frey – then they don’t know what to make of it). I don’t write a novel with the intent to deceive. It’s a story. I know it and the reader knows it. When someone reads my story, they know it’s not some newspaper account of an event that has put on fancy clothes and a colorful mask in order to pose as a novel. It’s just a piece of hopefully entertaining prose and if I’ve done a really good job, it might just point at truths that are difficult to approach in other ways. I’ll give Camus that much.
(if you don’t know the quote by Albert Camus: “Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth.”
By the way, click on Pinocchio above – it takes you to the site of a woman who makes wonderful masks.
I leave you with the master, Shakespeare (where lie means both ‘sleep with’ and falsehood) in Sonnet 138:
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutor’d youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false speaking tongue:
On both sides thus is simple truth suppress’d.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love loves not to have years told:
Therefore I lie with her and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flatter’d be.

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