Thursday, 18 October 2012

So what makes a book

"accessible"? I don't know.
There were some very interesting comments left for me yesterday. Thankyou. It set me to more thinking.
I took a quick look at Jeet Thayil's "Narcopolis" also short-liested for the Booker. The opening sentence is six and a half pages long.
If I had tried this in an essay at school my English teacher would, rightly, have thrown my work back at me and said, "Run on sentence. You can do better." When Thayil does it then it is somehow acceptable. It is "art" or - in this case - "literature". That does not mean it is easy to read. It is not.
I am not sure if it works or not. I have not read more than that yet. I may not read it but I will give it a go. Bombay - Mumbai? I think I had more of a sense of the place from letters a soldier sent his mother. I saw them after his death. His sentences were short, sharp and often misspelt. The English was not good but, somehow, he captures the essence of the city.
I also took a quick look at Will Self's "Umbrella" yesterday. I doubt I will be reading that. I will give it an honest attempt but I doubt it is for me.
I can remember when I was in the last year of primary school my father, who was teaching me at the time, read out a very short passage from Ulysses - a "stream of consciousness" sequence. The very fact I can remember him doing this is probably an indicator of the impact it had on me.  I can remember thinking, "Put down what is inside my head - exactly as I am thinking it. Don't change it."
I know I tried to do it often after that. It never really worked because I would immediately become conscious of what I was doing and, as always, the physical act of writing something down also got in the way.
Then there were the other questions of the position from which the book was - first person or third person, past tense or present tense?  My father encouraged us to try everything. I wonder now what practical farm children who did almost no reading made of these exercises. Did it make books more accessible for them? I hope it did. I know it made me more conscious of writing and how things are written.
So yes, one of the people who left a comment on yesterday's blog post is correct when she says that books like those on the Booker short-list are rather like modern art works. They can require detective work in order to be understood.  The detective work can be rewarding.
In the end though I think one of the other commenters is right. What we really ask for is to be told a story. It is, in the end, the story which we are looking for.


the fly in the web said...

I am looking for a story presented with style.
Mantel's writing cannot equal the clarity of the prose of the period she is my opinion.

jeanfromcornwall said...

It is good that some authors write these "difficult" books - they are challenging to read, and worthwhile.
I am getting old, and have consciously decided that I do not need to read the hard stuff unless it grabs me. I no longer feel the need to nourish my faculties - I have my own life and children and grandchildren to occupy that space. So reading is mostly a light entertainment which is why I so appreciate talented storytellers! Even so, I am also glad that I read plenty of the difficult ones when I was young - they helped me to grow up.