Roman a clef: This is French for ‘a novel with a key’, and describes a novel about real life, overlain with a façade of fiction. Fictitious names actually represent real people, and the ‘key’ works through the relationship between the reality and the fiction. This ‘key’ may be produced separately by the author, or deduced through the use of literary devices like epigraphs.
Examples of Roman a clef novels are:
Glenarvon (1816) by Lady Caroline Lamb: chronicles her affair with Lord Byron, who is thinly disguised as the title character.
The Carpetbaggers (1961) by Harold Robbins: fictionalized version of Hollywood exploits of Howard Hughes and actress Jean Harlow.
The Ghost (2007) by Robert Harris: the character of Adam Lang is loosely based on former Prime Minister Tony Blair. The Ghost Writer is a movie by Director Roman Polanski who turned the book into a film with Pierce Brosnan playing the character.
Pic: Farm drive above North Dalton, East Yorkshire.