Comments: 5
I had the same sort of experience with The Devil in the White City. I didn't question the scholarship, but the author had to leave out a lot of information I would have like to have because it would have interfered with the novelistic drama and pacing.
BrokenTune 6 years ago
The problem with this one here was that because there was dialogue and narrative, i kept thinking "How can Dobbs possibly know what was said?" There were no recordings or minutes of meetings - especially not of conversations between RFK and JFK. That's where the format of the narrative really got in the way.
This bugs me about biographies of historical persons as well if/when it happens there (persons from further back in history, that is) -- whatever sort of records are available, it's hardly ever a straight transcript, so rendering an exchange as dialogue, or interpreting the portrayed person's thoughts in novel-style indirect speech, always strikes me as somewhat disingenious. I have no problem with what A.S. Byatt calls "Faction," or with fiction in which historical persons make some sort of cameo appearance, as long as I get the impression the writer has done their basic homework -- fiction presupposes a certain amount of writerly liberty even when set against a true historical background and involving actual historical persons. But in nonfiction ... nah. If I'm told someone said or thought a certain thing there, it better be based on a verbatim source such as a transcript or diary. (And if it is, I want bibliographical notes detailing the specific source material.)
BrokenTune 6 years ago
Exactly. And like I said, Dobbs' work is riddled with footnotes and I have no doubt that the facts he delivers are facts, but he shot himself in the foot by making up the narrative and the dialogue and presupposing words, actions and intonations. It was a good read but just could have been so much better.
Sounds like my exact response to the "Duchess" bio by Amanda Foreman (on Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire) ...