Sunday, February 9, 2014

Flocking Pigeons

High on your list of preferred contemporary authors is the Irish novelist and critic, John Banville (Wexford, Republic of Ireland, 1945--).not only for his imaginative stories but for his use of language.


By any account a well-educated man, a writer of considerable force and ability, Banville has a vocabulary that sends you skittering to the dictionary with some regularity.  His education does not cast him as an academic writer, although it does provide him with the considerable skills necessary for a reviewer, which he is, notably for The Irish Times and The New York Review of Books, nor do you find his narrative style in any way overreaching or weighed down by the heavy, Latin tropes of academic writing.

If anything, there is a certain pugnaciousness about him as manifest in his prose, giving the impression of a habitue of a Dublin pub, challenging all comers to contests of words, drinking of Guiness pints, or a table of snooker.  You are eager to get your hands on Banville's latest, Black-eyed Blonde, a novel in the style of the mystery writer, Raymond Chandler, whose The Big Sleep was written seventy-five years ago.  With the addition of a few things such as cell phones, the Internet, and computers, The Big Sleep could hold its way with works being produced today by such writers as George Pelecanos, Dennis Lehane, and James Lee Burke.

You are as fond, if not fonder, of another Irish writer, Colm Toibin (Enniscorthy, Republic of Ireland, 1955--).  Even though Toibin does not write detective novels, his short stories are filled with the kinds of searing revelations found in yet another Irish writer, James Joyce.  Toibin's novels carry the unmistakable traces of his having read and respected Henry James.  He is in his way as provocative and insightful as Banville, definitely educated and thoughtful.  

The edge to Banville's reviews and novels is combative, causing you to regard him as the Irish equivalent of the writer Mailer wished to be.  Toibin's edge is more reflective of the cultural ties that impede them as well as motivate them toward risks beyond their apparent capacity to endure.  Toibin's people are often raw from wounds endured in their childhood or coming of age.

You identify with Banville in the matter of vocabulary.  An editor only today asked you why you didn't say "journey" or "flight" as opposed to the word, "hegira," you used.  This will not have been the first time such queries have appeared on your manuscripts.  

You manage to catch your two most significant habit words, "and" and "accordingly," the first because it causes sentences to sound lugubrious, more complex than the circumstances in your stories dictate, the accordingly because it is an adverb, but also because it has become somewhat of a throw-away phrase meaning "as a result" or "as a consequence."

You do not consider apt, terse words that seem to you to capture an intended meaning in fewer rather than more words as an equivalent of habit words or of seeking to bludgeon readers with a display of vocabulary.  You think nothing of an automobile or plumber mechanic having tools to do the job.  When you arrive at the dentist to have your teeth cleaned, the array of picks, curettes, and probes assure you rather than intimidate.

The editor who queried you on hegira also wondered what you meant by the expression "shot his cuffs," then added another query, "Do you mean wallet?"  No, you meant breast fold.  "Do men still use breast folds?"  You felt like sending him a screenshot of breast folds for men, but you simply said yes, you have used a breast fold for over thirty years.

Disclosure:  You did at one time set out to round up and tame a considerable herd of vocabulary, thinking this would draw attention away from your apparent lack of intelligence.  True enough, you were able to see at first hand how some words, seeming to have been pulled out of rare, exotic literature, have a distancing effect, which is not at all what you want.  But time has brought you to better terms with that issue.  Now, your interest in vocabulary has to do with your love of puns, words and phrases that sound like other words and phrases and which produce a sense of disconnect associated with the pun.

One single, simple example of the pun in action could be the result of saying to a clothing designer "Frock you."  Or perhaps the more genteel, "Ah, I see you're all frocked up."  

Yes, puns in their own way can become as distancing as the vocabulary of showing off.  You are in effect playing word games much of the time, not the least of which when choosing titles for these blog entries.

Words as tools becomes a trope of great concern for you.  There is always the hope that with enough tools, you can put together a narrative style that will carry your ideas and concerns to a destination of clarity and accessibility.

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