History as Fiction: D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel as an Example of Historiographic Metafiction

D. M. Thomas’s The White Hotel (1981) narrates the personal history of Lisa Erdman who is mercilessly murdered in the Babi Yar massacre in 1941. The aim of this paper is to analyze the ways D. M. Thomas uses history in The White Hotel and discusses the main concern of the novel regarding history and its presentation. In order to make such an analysis, this paper will make use of the arguments in the seminal work of Linda Hutcheon, A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction (1988), in which she illustrates the properties of “historiographic metafiction” – a category encompassing the postmodern novel whose basic motivation is to question the paradigms of traditional historiography. This paper discusses that The White Hotel offers an experimental handling of traditional historical representation by dealing with the Holocaust as an historical event. In line with Hutcheon’s argumentations, this study claims that through its metafictional qualities, The White Hotel deconstructs all the techniques and methods on which traditional historiography builds itself. The characteristics that The White Hotel embodies, that it blends reality and fiction, problematizes traditional notions of subjectivity, self-reflexively incorporates overtly different literary forms and styles, and employs an unconventional plot structure, contribute significantly to its status as an example of historiographic metafiction. The employment of these experimental techniques inevitably leads reader to think about the functions of these techniques, the writing process of the novel as well as the writing process of history in general.