Book review: ‘Reality Hunger’ by David Shields

‘Reality Hunger’ by David Shields

Reality Hunger is a strange, thought-provoking book. It comprises several-hundred unattributed quotes, some of them are straight lifts, some are by the author himself, and some have been amended by him. (I say unattributed quotes, although, for legal reasons, a list of citations is included at the end of the book—but Shields urges the reader not to refer to them.)

Shields’s central argument in this ‘manifesto’ is that people are crying out for more reality from the arts. As someone who much prefers reading factual writing to fiction, I found myself nodding in violent agreement many times throughout the book.

At other times, though, I was in almost equally violent disagreement. For example, at several points, one or more of the unnamed contributors claims there’s no meaningful difference between memoir and fiction. This is, of course, provocative bollocks. While memoirs might often be unreliable, their authors are usually at least trying to recall and express what actually happened, rather than making stuff up. Fiction authors, on the other hand, know full well they’re making stuff up, and are perfectly entitled to do so—provided they don’t go so far as to claim their made-up stuff is actually true. There’s a world of difference between striving to make a novel seem authentic and claiming it’s true.

But, provocative bollocks aside, as I said, a thought-provoking book.


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Richard Carter

Richard Carter is a writer and photo­grapher living in Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire. He is currently working on a book about looking at the world through Darwin’s eyes.Website · Newsletter · Mastodon · Facebook

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