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Death by naturalism

How close can fiction come to describing reality? The British author BS Johnson embarked on a quest for absolute literary naturalism which ended in his suicide.

By Jonathan Coe   February 2003

A cultural organisation recently asked me to take part in a debate on the question: “Is a true literary naturalism possible or even desirable?” The debate took place in France, where they like abstract ideas as much as the British dislike them. And sure enough, true to my national character, I found myself unable to get a handle on the topic unless I resorted to specific examples. I discovered that I could only make sense of the question by telling a story to illustrate it; thereby confirming-no doubt to the audience’s quiet satisfaction-that the British remain a nation of narrators…

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