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Don Pinnock

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Rainmaker review (go to bottom and move left to read)

Some thoughts on novel bibliographies

Should a novel have a bibliography? Looking for an answer I went to books by such authors as John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Amy Tan, Daleen Matthee, John Irving, Thomas Hardy, EM Forester, Amos Oz, Alexander McCall Smith, Charles Dickens and Vladimir Nabokov. None have bibliographies.

Michael Ondaatjie references only those sources he has quoted verbatim. Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray has an extensive biblio but, I discovered, it was added in later editions by an editor as an educational aide. Stuart Cloete’s Rags of Glory, on the other hand, has an extensive biblio – but then it’s so close to a formal history of the Anglo-Boer War is should have one. A brief scan through the latest South African novels came up with almost no biblios.

My question was kicked off by a reviewer saying my novel, Rainmaker, needed one. But did it? It got me thinking. The question seemed more answerable when I asked what a bibliography was for. It tells you where the background information came from and nods appreciation for all those who came before you. Novelists generally have a wide range of influences – books, interviews, newspapers, books and their own integrative creativity. Their aim, it seems to me, is to create a believable world between the covers – or within the Kindle.

A brief acknowledgement is fine. But a bibliography suggests to the reader that the novel is made up of many pieces of other worlds and therefore isn’t itself whole and believable. I’ll stick my neck out and say I think a bibliography shoots a novel in the foot. What do you think?