Sunday, May 11, 2008

Norm on The Great Fire

Reading Norm's post about Shirley Hazzard's The Great Fire, I'm forced to agree. That book has been pushed on me more than once by people who are, in all other respects, lucid, literate and sane. I've picked it up at least three times, determined to give it a fair go; but, every time, I've been defeated by its stylistic quirks.

Now I'm also no stickler for, let's say, lexical exactitude, so I'm not sure why this particular book enrages me so. A novel like the wonderful Fugitive Pieces also made me stop and re-read its lyrical sentences. But that was an intensely rewarding experience. With Great Fire, the quirks seem perilously close to being just mistakes. I'm quite sure they're not: she's an award-winning novelist, after all, and I'm very much not.

But take this sentence from the very first page (I quote from memory): "The platform faces faded into the expression of those that remain". Every time I prepare to lower myself into what I've been led to believe is the warm bath of the book's sensual poetry, I'm slapped about the chops with cold fish sentence like that. I can see what it means if peer at it closely; but the sentence was hardly worth reading once, let alone twice.

No comments: