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.
It’s about time I accepted that winter is here, sort out some warm clothes to wear and stop pretending I’m hard like those Scots that wear kilts – or shorts – all year round (I am not a Scot anyway, and these days I only bare my legs in public if I feel threatened).
This year winter has sneaked up on us and we have snow. There’s not much here – yet – just the odd flurry. We had our first frost in August, and after it had zapped my vulnerable vegetables the weather got warm again. Compared with Sweden we have it easy. Or maybe we don’t, because here we get snow that comes and goes. They get snow that comes and stays, so once they have cleared the drifts they let the snow build up in layers. During my short trip there in the 1980s I was driven out of Stockholm by a geologist on a road so icy you could almost see your face in it. He drove as if there was no ice. Approaching a crossroads at about 40mph he didn’t brake until the last minute and the car stopped as if he had thrown an anchor out. ‘I have tyres with nails,’ he said in a Kurt Wallander voice. ‘They spike the snow.’
It was my first (and only) encounter with studded tyres. He went on to tell me that the hard-packed snow on the road was about 30cm thick, that the highway authorities scrape the surface to keep it flat but they don’t grit or salt the roads. Once the temperature falls it tends to stay low and the snow stays frozen. Ours does not. Hence our grit and salt.
Not all cars I saw had studded tyres, most had chains (but it was some time ago and I suspect things have changed). I have driven with chains on all four wheels (I had a jeep) and could plough through two feet of snow. Trouble was, when I got onto cleared, salted roads it was like driving with tank tracks, marking the road surface and cutting my tyres. The other problem was that it makes no difference how macho your vehicle is, if the guy in front of you is blocking the road there isn’t anywhere else you can go.