Trend Watch

Roman à clef

When:

Lookups spiked on June 27, 2012.

Why:

Many obituaries of writer/director Nora Ephron, who passed away on June 26, referred to "Heartburn" – a novel about her marital breakup with journalist Carl Bernstein – as a roman à clef.

Roman à clef means "a novel in which real persons or actual events figure under disguise." The phrase was borrowed from French and means "novel with a key." Novels written in the court of Louis XIV featured characters based on real nobles, that era's celebrities – with their identities half-disguised behind fictional names.

A more recent roman à clef is the novel "Primary Colors," based on the first presidential campaign of Bill Clinton.

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