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.
I have been away, isolated from the Internet for eight whole days (not sure if that is a good or a bad thing, but it explains why my last post on this site is over a week old). In the late 1970s I tried to learn Swedish, I even took lessons. The firm I worked for was tendering for a large (huge, actually) contract in partnership with a Swedish firm, but the contract didn’t materialise. Nor did my Swedish, because I can remember only two words of the language, the words for ‘no’ and ‘nothing’ – so it is just as well that Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ novels have been translated into English. Also Stieg Larsson’s, of course.
I spent most of the week reading Larsson’s ‘The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo’ and then his ‘The Girl Who Played With Fire’. Now I am halfway through ‘The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets’ Nest’. Each novel is about twice as long as many thrillers I’ve read. Hornets is huge, 746 pages. Are they good? Good…? (Bears, woods and Popes come to mind). The fact that I have been hooked by them so completely speaks for itself. Stunningly good. Very different.
The bad thing is that shortly after delivering these three novels to his publisher, Stieg Larsson died of a massive heart attack. Read more here.