On a rainy afternoon when I was marking Year 7 assessment tasks, my mobile phone’s melodious ringtone was a welcoming relief as it saved me from drowning in a sea of boring responses. I was a little surprised to hear from one of my college friends who wanted to invite me to an Alumni get together and the invitation assumed the form of a catch-up prattle. Unintentionally, the conversation steered to my first book ‘Pneuma’ and she said she did not finish reading my book because it comprised of my personal experiences. I thought she sounded embarrassed over the phone. She equated reading my book to peeping into my bedroom and had to stop herself from doing so, for fear of catching me in the middle of a copulative act. If personal experiences of authors were such a taboo then I am confused about the significance attached to autobiographies, memoirs etc. In fact, in the publishing industry, memoirs have an impressive market demand.
Most of us have read or heard about politicians’ autobiographies such as Barack Obama’s ‘Dreams from my father’ and shocking celebrities’ memoirs. Readers have not cringed from reading about the personal experiences of these daring authors who had no difficulty in obtaining excellent reviews. Conservative readers need to embrace changes in genres. Even If I were audacious enough to declare that ‘Pneuma’ is a Roman à clef instead of it being a realistic fiction, I have not deterred from tradition. Am I contradicting myself? Encyclopaedia Britannica defines Roman à clef, (French: “novel with a key”) as a novel that has the extraliterary interest of portraying well-known real people more or less thinly disguised as fictional characters. Although the tradition goes back to the 17th century France, Aldous Huxley’s roman a clefs, Point Counter Point (1928) and Simone de Beauvoir’s Mandarins (1954), have disguised characters who “are immediately recognizable only to a small circle of insiders”. Many dictionaries define Roman à clef as a novel about real life in which the fictitious names of the characters represent real people and the key is the link between non-fiction and fiction.
If we were to debate about the inherent values of autobiographical experiences in books, then its usefulness is unquestionable and is something that we can’t do without for the simple reason that literature is a mirror of life. While we have only one life and it is impossible to partake in every kind of experience that life has to offer, by reading autobiographies, memoirs etc. responders are creating opportunities for themselves to be in the shoes of other people. By becoming one with the authors, we experience their pain, humiliation, suffering, joys, pleasures and as we learn life lessons from their compositions we cannot ignore the didactic value of these books.