June 24, 2015

Coruscating audacity

The Conversation is a website primarily aimed at academics, journalists and intellectuals - or those who think they are. Us - or is it we? - plebs sometimes need a dictionary and a bit of mental gymnastics to understand what they are on about.

Take this offering from an Open University academic about the latest author who is winning all the prestigious prizes for “shimmering linguistic audacity” - a warning bell to me that the book is likely to be unreadable. Yup, on scanning various reviews online, it looks like yet another pretentious Emperor’s clothes type of book.

There’s a comment in the closing paragraph which feels like a patronising snook at those of us who prefer “cosy” (simple?) historical fiction, but it looks like we’re doomed to much more experimentation in this genre in the future. Groan!

I’ve news for publishing folk out there. Some of us feel these literary devices have been done to death. Post-modernism or plotless. Stream of consciousness. Backwards, frontwards, sideways time-frames. The trendy unreliable narrator. First person point of view by six-year old kid who thinks like fully-formed adult (a particular hate of mine). Misery in all its popular forms: sexual abuse, domestic violence, alcoholism, racism, etc. etc.

Some of we/us readers can’t take it any more. We have become un-shockable, jaded, unimpressed with all these scenarios. Sadly, when all such themes are hammered at us in real life via the media on a daily basis, turning to literature to wallow in even more of them has to be the choice of the true masochist. Too much focus on the depressing downside of life means we are seriously at risk of losing our compassion and sympathy for our fellow humans when our minds become overloaded with all this stuff.

Another bug-bear of mine is the grammar hi-jinks some authors resort to in order to get their books noticed, Not sure whether we’ve had a prize-winning book that is completely written in reverse as yet … “Esrever” … hmm, admit it has a ring to it  … or that needs a mirror to decipher. About the only thing that hasn’t been awarded a major literature prize, leastwise not to my knowledge, is a book of blank pages with some kind of impenetrable description such as - a febrile synecdoche contextualization of the imperative dichotomy of dystopian existence and the philosophy of the imagination - or some such twaddle. But perhaps it is just around the corner as this terrific cartoon suggests it could be!


Just in case you think I am being way too ironic or sarcastic, I did one of those silly online quizzes the other day about what book I am. To my utter horror, the result was James Joyce’s “Ulysses” - which everybody knows is the most unreadable book in the universe - so seems like the joke is on me! Reminds me I need to clean out the fridge.

Copyright David Jacobson, New Yorker


PS  Since writing the above, Australia’s Miles Franklin book award has been announced. Naw, I don’t believe it! Seems it’s yet another one of those with alcoholism and violence seen through the eyes of a child and there are several references in online reviews to its “coruscating” language. I had to jump to the dictionary and remind myself what that means. I guess when reviewing serious prize-winning novels, no glittering, sparkling, flashing, etc. is permitted, apart from shimmering linguistic audacity that is.

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