The novelist, travel writer and environmentalist Peter Matthiessen once said, ‘All truthful writers are sui generis.’ He added:
The best non-fiction has many, many virtues ... yet its fidelity to the known facts is its fatal constraint [whereas] deep in a novel, one scarcely knows what may surface next, let alone where it comes from. In abandoning oneself to the free creation of something never beheld on earth, one feels almost delirious with a strange joy.
Non-fiction tends to get hemmed in by reality and assessed on the grounds of ‘its fidelity to the known facts’. Naturally, fervent and idiosyncratic portraits of putative real life have been written, from Knut Hamsun’s travels in Russia to Virginia Woolf’s and George Orwell’s essays on anything. Furthermore, some novels