Wednesday, October 19, 2011
I took a break from reading that book to read an October 17 New Yorker piece titled "Sons and Lovers" by James Wood. The essay is ostensibly a review of Alan Hollinghurst's novel, The Stranger's Child. But because this is James Wood, we're also treated to a lively linguistic lesson by the man who wrote a little book that I hope you writers all have at hand, How Fiction Works. Love that book. Need it.
In any case, back to the subject at hand, which is the word "beautiful" as it is applied to prose, and what James Wood has to say—with infinite brilliance—about that. Here he is, at the essay's start. Please read the whole. It's worth it.
Most of the prose writers acclaimed for "writing beautifully" do no such thing; such praise is issued comprehensively, like the rain on the just and the unjust. Mostly, what's admired as beautiful is ordinary; or sometimes it's too obviously beautiful, feebly fine—what Nabokov once called "weak blond prose." The English novelist Alan Hollinghurst is one of the few contemporary writers who deserve the adverb. His prose has the power of re-description, whereby we are made to notice something hitherto neglected. Yet, unlike a good deal of modern writing, this re-description is not achieved only by inventing brilliant metaphors, or by flourishing some sparkling detail, or by laying down a line of clever commentary. Instead, Hollinghurst works quietly, like a poet, goading all the words in his sentences—nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs—into a stealthy equality.