Treading water between fact and fiction

And to think this post almost became a quick deal report and a somewhat snarky follow-up comment. It’s a habit I try not to indulge as much as I once did, because it doesn’t really help and has the unseemly habit of biting me in the ass at a later point, but when I saw this deal on Friday afternoon, my initial reaction was something along the lines of “um, no”:

Mitch Silver’s PROVENANCE, a debut thriller about a woman who inherits

a nonfiction manuscript by Ian Fleming that provides evidence that the

Duke of Windsor was in a treasonous plot with Hitler, to Trish Todd at

Touchstone Fireside, in a major deal, by Larry Kirshbaum at LJK

Literary Management (world).

The more I thought about it, the more I wondered why this caught my attention any more than some other deals for historical thrillers or for metafiction. Because the blend of known facts and fictional suppositions is one of most hallowed trends going – look at all the Sherlock Holmes books of last year, and the Edgar Allan Poe-based ones out now or soon. Why did those books not bother me instinctively?

The answer, at least to me, is severalfold. Holmes is a fictional

character, and creating additional fictions about him is just adding

extra layers. Never mind that those writers who do it the best – Mitch

Cullin and Laurie King most recently – use Holmes the archetype to

either illuminate other people’s truths or their own. In the case of

the Poe books (Andrew Taylor’s THE AMERICAN BOY, Matthew Pearl’s THE

POE SHADOW and Louis Bayard’s THE PALE BLUE EYE, to name three) the

writers in question are filling in gaps or fleshing out particular

periods of Poe’s life that aren’t well-documented.

And the documentation, I think, is what’s tripping me up here. Fleming’s life

is, while not exactly public domain, well enough known that even

entertaining the notion that he could have written a non-fiction

project on the side doesn’t necessarily ring true. (Or maybe it’s

because somebody tried already.) Then there’s the fact that the links between Edward VIII and Hitler are reasonably well established now – just go hang out at the National Archives and read through the gobs and gobs of files made available in 2003

after the Queen Mother had finally shuffled off to her mortal coil to

find out just how much. Never mind Eddie’s rather infamous comment to


interviewer back in 1970: “I never thought Hitler was such a bad

chap.” So maybe I’m just jaded and cynical in that the idea of a

treasonous plot between a dethroned king and an evil dictator evidently

on record as saying to Wallis Simpson, “you would make a good Queen,”

just makes me shrug my shoulders. But then, I’ve also been making phone

wiretap jokes since college…

But the real reason likely has to do with suspension of disbelief,

which is the most important thing a reader must do to read almost any

work of fiction. And if I’ve analyzed a book this much based on a

two-line writeup, it means I’m not buying the premise. But at the same

time, since I have analyzed Silver’s book this much based on so

little, it has obviously struck a nerve. Which means that there must be

some sort of visceral response to the concept which translates much

better in the full manuscript.

So maybe that initial “um, no” reaction ought to be transposed to “well, wait a minute…“