Wednesday, October 13, 2004

For openers

Anyone who believes a story needs to be "grabby", should read this.

If this tedious, overwritten trash is the height of British writing, I fear us Brits need to give up.

"You’re either for me or against me, thought Alex-Li Tandem, referring to the daylight and, more generally, to the day."

This is just not a credible thing to think. It's the kind of flash, look-at-me allusion Smith indulges in -- hollow and pointless. (She seems to write in the hope that no one will ever stop and think what she's actually saying and, luckily for her, most of the critical and literary community in the UK are so airheaded -- the produce of privilege rather than talent -- that they never do.) What a thing to begin your book with! The name is stupid and that's going to nag at the reader for pages and pages, if not taint their whole reading of the book.

"He stretched flat and made two fists."

Why deny the idiom? You "stretch out". When a writer denies the idiom there ought to be a purpose. If there is not, either the writer has the idiom wrong or they are purposely being "writerly", which is an affectation.

Why did he make two fists? What does it mean that he did? Nothing. It's no use thinking about it. She's not actually saying anything, just embroidering. Her character made two fists for absolutely no reason. It's a principle of writing that I believe a good writer adheres to that one does not tell the reader anything they do not need to know. It's actually fucking elementary. But because a writer like Smith is technically literate, they can get away with breaching it and no one feels they should call them on it.

"He was fully determined to lie right here until he was given something to work with, something noble, something fine. "

You what? "Something to work with" that was noble and fine? That doesn't make any sense. "Something to work for" would work. "Something to work towards"...

So why the odd phrasing? Again, two possibilities. Either the writer cannot write or is being too clever.

"He saw no purpose in leaving his bed for a day that was against him from the get-go. He had tried it before; no good could come from it."

Okay. But this does not follow from the previous sentence. It's a recapitulation of an earlier thought.

This reads like a first draft. You wonder why she didn't read over it and say, oh no, actually that's not working.

"A moment later he was surprised to feel a flush of warm light dappled over him, filtered through a blind."

You fucking what? The woman doesn't even know what "dappled" means. A dalmatian is dappled because it has light and dark patches. Tandem is dappled because the light is filtered through his blinds. The light dapples him, but it cannot "dapple over" him. It doesn't actively do anything. It's not rain, for fuck's sake. In any case, the warmth is the sun, not the light, unless someone's switched on a sunlamp outside his window. I know, she's trying to be clever, but instead of making a new coat out of old cloth, she has given the appearance of not knowing what a coat is.

She continues, dully expounding on the qualities of today's light versus yesterday's.

The opening of a story ought to pose questions, yes, but one of them should not be "Why is this woman writing this rubbish?"


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