Monday, 9 December 2013

Booker Styles, The Long and the Short of It

This year's Booker prizewinner, "The Luminaries", by Eleanor Catton, made history as being the longest yet, at 832 pages.  It also made headlines because she is, at 28,  the youngest author ever to win the prize.

It is indeed a weighty tome. I got it out of the library to preview, as one of the members of the book-group I have just joined was threatening, (others protested vehemently), to select it as book choice for her next turn.

Oh, the wordiness of it!  At a creative writing group I've joined, we are told to "Show Not Tell".  E. Catton persists in lengthy boring descriptions, both of the characters' external visage and their interior psychology.  We are supposed to show the latter by dialogue.  The former, as in Jane Austen, is supposed to be inferred by the reactions of others.  Here's an example of the verbosity, not to say pomposity, of the language.  (I've researched copyright, and a quote for illustrative purposes is all right if it is short in proportion to the length of the work as a whole.  My selection fits that measure).

"Balfour's will was too strong to admit philosophy, unless it was of the soundest empirical sort; his liberality could make no sense of despair, which was to him as a fathomless shaft, possessed of depth but not of breadth, stifled in its isolation, navigable only by touch, and starved of any kind of any curiosity."

A further three sentences of about the same length and density, continue the paragraph, which basically adds zilch, tiddly squat, to my mental picture of Balfour.  This is on page 32.  You are supposed to carry on for another 800 pages.  Life is too short.

Now compare a sentence from a book by Penelope Fitzgerald.  A friend, anticipating the new biography of this author (by Hermione Lee if anyone is interested), lent me a book by PF.  Fitzgerald won the Booker prize in 1979 with "Offshore".  Amazon reviewers praise this winner for being brief, incisive, elegant, if a little too short.   The book my friend passed on to me was called "The Bookshop", (a subject guaranteed to attract my interest). It was published in 1978 and made the Booker Prize final list.  It is a short book, subtle and sharp.

"The Bookshop", elegantly written but leaving ultimately a very sad after-taste, is set in coastal Suffolk.  A woman opens a bookshop.  Here is  a sample sentence.   "She was held back by an urgent hand, and addressed by a man, not young, in a corduroy jacket, smiling as a toad does, because it has no other expression."

I have time to read another book by this author!

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Book Groups (Dilemma Resolved)

I have now joined a book group.  Watch this space for more details.  Now I will have to read books chosen by other people, as well as following my fancy.  I think it will be good for me.