Patricia Duncker

Romain A Clef

Romain Gary: A Tall Story

By

Harvill Secker 497pp £30 order from our bookshop

The root of the word ‘pseudonym’ is ‘pseudos’, which means a lie. Romain Gary (1914–80) acted out his life and published his writing via a welter of pseudonyms. He called himself Shatan Bogat, René Deville, Fosco Sinibaldi (after Count Fosco in The Woman in White, a novel he adored), John Markham Beach and, most famously, Emile Ajar. Why use a pseudonym? Always, or almost always, it means you have something to hide. Many eighteenth-century novels were published anonymously, but to publish as Anon, as Jane Austen did in her lifetime, is not the same thing as adopting another identity or gender different from your own. George Eliot could be a respectable clergyman whereas Marian Evans was a public scandal, and the careful sexual ambiguity of some contemporary writers – J K Rowling, A L Kennedy, A S Byatt – suggests that being read as a woman is still perceived as a disadvantage. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'To be clever without wanting to glory in it, put dimmer people down or make an act of covering it up (viz Boris Jo… ,
    • 'Her favourite design included a body in the shape of a horse, with a steam engine inside ... The passenger would t… ,
    • Sign up to our email newsletter below! Get free articles, highlights from the archive, and chances to win theatre… ,
    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,