Reportage trumps fiction?

Photo courtesy The Guardian

As bestselling reporter Sebastian Junger’s account of his year spent with US forces in Afghanistan joins other first-rate books about contemporary conflicts, English novelist Geoff Dyer argues in The Guardian that recent reportage trumps fiction in its characterisation, observation and narrative drive.

Apart from Junger’s book, Dyer also cites David Finkel’s The Good Soldiers as prime exhibits. His starting point goes something like this:

… the conflict in Afghanistan wasn’t an active issue in the recent British election because it is in danger of being regarded as a condition to be endured rather than a problem to be solved – much as the war in Iraq became before British troops withdrew.

And he reckons the 2 books mentioned offer perilous insights into the nature of this condition. The Good Soldiers is the result of eight months spent with the US 2-16 Infantry Battalion in Baghdad, part of “the surge” confidently announced by President Bush in January 2007. War is an account of Junger’s time embedded with a platoon of American soldiers at “the tip of the spear” in the lethal Korengal Valley in Afghanistan.

In a thought provoking 3,000 plus word essay that evokes all sorts of authorial ghosts, Dyer concludes with a quote from Martin Amis, who once claimed the non-fiction novel, as practised by Mailer and Capote, lacked …

“moral imagination. Moral artistry. The facts cannot be arranged to give them moral point. There can be no art without moral point. When the reading experience is over, you are left, simply, with murder – and with the human messiness and futility that attends all death.”

Dyer notes that Amis’s essay is an old one, and as such, the point can now be seen to contain its own limitation and, by extension, refutation. “We are moving beyond the non-fiction novel,” Dyer says, “to different kinds of narrative art, different forms of cognition. Loaded with moral and political point, narrative has been recalibrated to record, honour and protest the latest, historically specific instance of futility and mess.”

Read the full article at The Guardian …

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