The Lifespan of a Fact
By John D’Agata
Review by Will (English)
The Lifespan of a Facthas got to be one of the most enjoyable and infuriating books I’ve ever come across. I bought it whilst researching “The Literary Essay” as a special subject in 3rd year and it’s become one of my favourites . The basic story is made up of a debate between John D’Agata who has written a “factual” essay and Jim Fingal an intern who is assigned the laborious task of checking each reference within the text. What emerged was 7 years of arguments, negotiations and revisions as D’Agata and Fingal struggle to negotiate the boundaries of literary nonfiction. The text raises all sorts of fascinating questions of whether overall truth can harbour any creative embellishments and why do we as readers demand and expect the truth.
The layout of the book is also intriguing as the original text of the essay itself is placed in the centre with comments, questions and rebuttals spewing out from it all over the page. When reading it your eyes are never quite sure where to go first. Whether to read the original text then the comments which reveal and pick apart the untruths or to arm yourself with this knowledge first. Reading the intellectual boxing match between Fingal and D’Agata you are invited into the workings of the text to see how each sentence and each fact are rigorously tested and checked prior to publication. Admittedly, The Lifespan of a Fact offers no easy answers to all the questions it throws up but thankfully it’s also just really funny. As Fingal and D’Agata get increasingly worked up and irritated with each other any pretence of civility disappears and these two esteemed writers begin to act like grumpy teenagers.
The Lifespan of a Fact is like nothing I’ve ever read before. Bizarre, funny and fascinating it will constantly surprise you. If you fancy a change from Dickens and Eliot I cannot recommend this book enough!
The Lifespan of a Fact by John D’Agata