I recently read a 176-word sentence. On one of my bookshelves I found an old paperback copy of Brideshead Revisited, and I read it for the first time. What always strikes me about early authors (I’m thinking of the likes of Waugh and Greene rather than Chaucer and Dante) is that their books are such an easy read. Because Waugh’s long sentence was correctly punctuated it read well, and I didn’t have to go back to the beginning of it to remind myself how it started.
I couldn’t help but compare the writing to that of Henning Mankell, whose novel ‘The Man from Beijing‘ I am reading now. I have read a few of his Wallander novels and I find his use of short sentences irritating, it’s like I am being presented with a list of short facts punctuated by full stops. He (or his translator) use very few conjuctions, reminding me of the first books I read when I was small (okay, I’ve never been small, exactly). You know the kind of thing, ‘Tom had a bicycle. The bicycle was big. It was red. Sometimes it went very fast’. Mankell’s books are not for the young of course, nor for the squeamish. I’m not complaining, I find them refreshingly different. And how could I possibly complain? I can’t even get my novels published.
There is something about William Boyd’s writing that reminds me of Graham Greene, though I can’t quite put my finger on it. Mind you, it’s a few years since I read anything by Greene, so it may simply be my memory playing up. I have almost finished Boyd’s Ordinary Thunderstorms and it’s a real page turner. It took me a while to get into it. I had reached page two when I came across two words I hadn’t seen before: bosky and susurrus. My interest stalled. I was reminded of pretentious authors who insert Latin of French phrases into their text without even a hint at the meaning (luckily, for peasants like me that did brickwork, plumbing and carpentry at school rather than Latin and French, there are very few of these authors still around). Statistically, as by page two there were already two words I didn’t understand and it is a 403 page book, there could well have been another 401 more words to baffle me, to knock me right out of the story. No way was I going to read a novel with the book in one hand and the OED in the other.
I persevered. After all, Boyd’s protagonist was going for a lecturing job at Imperial College, my old Alma Mater (see, I write Latin!). I needn’t have worried. Beyond page two I understood every word.
William Boyd wrote Restless, and A Good Man in Africa. I came across him (I have deja vu here – I might already have said this in an earlier blog) when driving south to the Stafford Classic Bike Show. I needed something to listen to and I bought a set of Restless CDs. When I got home I sought out more of his stuff and I read A Good Man in Africa
Shall I look up those two words? I wasn’t going to bother but it’s nice to learn new things so I’ll do it now.
togoI have just read John Grisham’s ‘Theodore Boone’. I’m not sure I have ever read a Grisham book before, though I have heard many of them on audio CDs. I tend to buy CD sets on the motorway when I drive south on the M74 and M6. If you have experienced the M6 between Preston and Birmingham, then you will know that it is probably the worst road in the world (and I have driven the road between Lome and Kara in Togo. Believe me, that is another story. You drive around bodies of dead men… and they are still there when you drive back a week later. So perhaps the M6 isn’t that bad after all).
I always mean to manage the drive without these audio CDs because they aren’t cheap. But at around 100 miles from home I pull into services and go through the racks in WHSmith. Grisham is always there. On my previous trip south I bought ‘Ford County’ and enjoyed it – when driving I need something that doesn’t tax my brain too much, I need most of those little grey cells to handle what is happening on the road around me and John Grisham on audio is about right for that. But I shall not buy any more of his stuff in book form because curled up on the sofa I need something that will engage 100% of my brain (I know that never happens, I’m simply saying it for effect). Grisham’s books have been described as potboilers which is a little unfair. But what the hell, he entertains me whilst driving. I know he’s not Graham Greene or J M Coetzee. They are for curling up with (if you know what I mean).
And Theodore Boone? Well, I’m no critic but I would say it was written for 12 year olds*. It is in big print, with lots of spaces, so there isn’t as much of it as you think. Also, if you are hard-of-seeing, you won’t have trouble reading it.
*Now I know why. Google it and you will see that it is written for children. So why doesn’t it say that anywhere on the version I bought? It says ‘kid lawyer’ on the cover of the US version and ‘young lawyer’ on the early UK versions. So why leave it off, wasn’t it selling? And why was it with Grisham’s ‘adult’ books in WHSmith at the airport last week?