Landscaping our prose (Virginia Pye, Vaddey Ratner, Chloe Aridjis)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Today (among so many other things) we're talking about landscape in memoir, about the ways that topography and visual detail elevate and suggest a story. We've read two chapters in Howard Norman's I Hate to Leave This Beautiful Place. We've written responses. And now we'll talk.

I'm going to be sharing these three very different approaches to landscape (each drawn from novels). I now share them with you. What do you learn from them? What do they teach you about possibilities?

First, from the courageous first novel (River of Dust) from the dear Virginia Pye, this evocation of a dusty province in China, 100 years ago:

On springtime mornings like those, when the rain had finally stopped, they waded out toward the creek that had been rising for days. From farms upstream floated all manner of tires, cut logs, old boots, and once a bloated cow, swirling in an eddy until it was skewered by the limbs of a fallen tree.

Now a snatch of London from Asunder, by the amazing Chloe Aridjis:

The dusk of Millbank had filled with the amber lozenges of unoccupied black cabs, miners with lantern-strapped foreheads rushing towards or away from the city centre, as I made my way to meet Daniel at the Drunken Duck, a pub a few streets from Tate Britain.

And now from my friend, Vaddey Ratner—words originating from Cambodia, from the deservedly bestselling In the Shadow of the Banyan:

In the courtyard something stirred. I peered down and saw Old Boy come out to water the gardens. He walked like a shadow; his steps made no sound. He picked up the hose and filled the lotus pond until the water flowed over the rim. He sprayed the gardenias and orchids. He sprinkled the jasmines. He trimmed the torch gingers and gathered their red flame-like blossoms into a bouquet, which he tied with a piece of vine and then set aside, as he continued working. Butterflies of all colors hovered around him as if he were a tree stalk and his straw hat a giant yellow blossom.


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