The truth about fiction and lies

PUBLISHED : Friday, 10 March, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 10 March, 2006, 12:00am

Have you ever wondered what is the difference between fiction and lies?

When we say that something is fictional we mean that it is made up, that it is not based on the truth. Instead it is borne out of the imagination.

To write fiction is not only acceptable in society, but is, in fact, honourable or even praiseworthy. Telling lies, on the other hand, is considered wrong and dishonourable. But what is the difference really?

Imagine that you have broken your arm. You broke it because you were clumsy and tripped and fell down the stairs on your way to school. Breaking your arm because you tripped and fell sounds far less exciting than saying you broke your arm protecting an old woman from a pickpocket.

So, if you go with the second explanation, are you lying or are you creating fiction? How do we ever really know the difference?

One perspective

This is precisely what troubles the narrator of Mark Haddon's, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. The narrator of this story is 15-year-old Christopher Boone. There are ways in which Christopher seems like your typical, curious teenager. But then there are other ways in which Christopher is far from normal.

Unlike the average 15-year-old, Christopher is autistic. He has a photographic memory and a highly logical and overactive mind which makes it quite difficult for him to relax. He has no problem with complicated mathematical problems, but struggles to make sense out of anything that requires the least bit of interpretation.

In Christopher's mind, metaphors, like fiction, are basically synonymous with lies. At one point in the book, he says: 'This is another reason why I don't like proper novels, because they are lies about things which didn't happen and they make me feel shaky and scared.' (Chapter 37)

Questions to think about

What is your perspective? Is Christopher's argument valid?

Are lies and fiction the same?

Are some lies good, while others are bad? Or, is a lie simply a lie?

Making sense of irony defines irony as incongruity or inconsistency between what might be expected and what actually occurs.

Ironic example 1

At one point in the book, Christopher says: 'I do not tell lies ... I can't tell lies.' (Chapter 37)

He also says that he doesn't like novels because they are lies and lies make him uncomfortable.

Ironically, however, by the close of the book, the reader discovers that the very person who doesn't like novels has narrated a very good piece of fiction.

Ironic example 2

Christopher disapproves of metaphors, as metaphors seem to him to be a kind of verbal deceit.

But, in the book, he says: 'Prime numbers are what is left when you have taken all the patterns away. I think prime numbers are like life. They are very logical but you could never work out the rules, even if you spent all your time thinking about them.' (Chapter 22)

Here, the reader finds Christopher himself using metaphors to describe his thoughts and feelings.

Ironic example 3

Another irony that comes to light in the story has to do with Christopher's insistence that he is not funny, nor does he tell jokes. He says, in fact, that these are things he fails to understand.

However, throughout the story, readers will inevitably find a sense of comedy in many of the things that Christopher says.

Although he might not intend to be 'funny', the matter-of-fact way in which he says things, things that most people would agree are best not said aloud, evokes a kind of ironic sense of humour.

Some more questions to think about

Can you find other examples of irony in the book?

What literal meaning underlies the irony?