As I'm currently overseas, I've asked a few people to help out with the some guest posts for the blog. They'll be interspersed with some other unpublished posts I have mooching around. Regular service will resume in March. - Sofie.
In my previous post, I talked about admiring a writing style that was simple, raw and relatable. In this second post, I’m going to talk about how much I admire a good author who knows the mood of his book and incorporates this mood into the style of writing. In this post, we are going to look at three very popular authors Patrick O’Brian, Péter Nádras and Cormac McCarthy to see what moods they employ in one of their signature books and how this matches the style of the work.
Patrick O’Brian is a prolific and talented author with a considerable following. He was the kind of author that I can imagine other authors hating in an admiring kind of way. His first book was published in 1930 (written at the age of 13) and he continued to get published throughout the rest of his life and indeed his last book was published posthumously in 2001. He is most renowned for the twenty-one-part Aubry-Maturin series, but here we are going to have a look at The Road to Samarcand. Have a look at the passage below and see if you can figure out the style or theme of the book.
Derrek never knew what hit him, but he had the vague impression of being gripped by both ears while his head was battered against the ground like the hammer of an alarm clock. At some time, too, a head or knee had hit him in the stomach, and teeth met in his forearm; but that was all lost in the swirl of darkness, and when he came slowly out of it he had a faint notion of having been run over by a steam-roller.
You can see that it is some kind of violent story, you can see that the character in question is getting himself into all sorts of trouble, but you might also be able to detect that there is a certain amount of cheekiness to the writing. The events of the passage describe a brutal beating, but the style of the writing makes it seem more like a fun event or a fond memory. I feel like this is because similes such as “…like the hammer of an alarm clock” and “…faint notion of having been run over by a steam roller” make the beating sound like something your grandfather might say when describing his wild youth. O’Brian has deliberately used this style of writing to tell an action adventure story about a schoolboy on one last journey with his unruly uncle before re-enrolling for his next semester.
Péter Nádras is a demanding author who has garnered a lot of respect in central and eastern Europe. He is an active member of many literary committees and has received many accolades for his work. His native language is Hungarian so it is interesting to read this passage below from his 1979 novel Love and to realise that although the choice of words is not his, the style and content is.
I’m still in my underpants. These imagined movements are much too complicated to be carried out. I turn my head away. White, distant white. At the edge of my frame of vision is the open door of the balcony, with the reflections of the glass panes. It’s good like this. This is no longer waiting. Everything is good now. Maybe we shouldn’t even smoke another one.
It’s obvious that the character has taken some kind of mind-altering drug and is suffering/enjoying the effects. But this isn’t a Fear and Loathing style introspective nightmare and it certainly isn’t an American summer movie drug romp. Its short sentences are easy careful descriptions of someone simply enjoying a drug induced moment. Nádras uses this style carefully for the entirety of his novel evolving it forward almost to the point of a nightmare then slowly pulling to back to sobriety as the protagonist considers his love for his mistress.
Cormac McCarthy’s The Road has been acclaimed worldwide for both its literary value and its message. Amongst many other accolades, it has been awarded the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 2007 and been described as the most important environmental book ever. Let’s have a look and see what you think.
He’d had this feeling before, beyond the numbness and the dull despair. The world shrinking down about a raw core of parsable entities. The names of things slowly following those things into oblivion. Colors. The names of birds. Things to eat. Finally the names of things one believed to be true. More fragile than he would have thought. How much was gone already? The sacred idiom shorn of its referents and so of its reality. Drawing down like something trying to preserve heat. In time to wink out forever.
This passage is interesting because it gives no clues as to what’s actually happening. It is entirely drawn from the character’s depression. It’s basically saying that he is sad, really sad, but it’s an intellectual sadness. McCarthy uses words like parsable, idiom and referents to describe how the character is losing his intellectualism, more than that, the writing echoes the first line, it feels numb, dull and despairing. McCarthy builds The Road’s world of despair using nothing but his signature writing style to flesh out this father and son journey through a post-apocalyptic world. McCarthy never needs to say that his world is stark because his style says it for him.
Interestingly, each of these three authors has commented at one time or another that they do not make a comprehensive plan for their novels. Even so, I feel that the one thing that they must have been aware of before starting their books was the mood of the book and the style in which they were going to write it. This is the core idea of this post. In addition to keeping my writing simple, raw and relatable I can aid my readers understanding of my content by modifying my style. O’Brian makes a beating look like fun, Nádras makes his drug trip look dislocated and confusing, and McCarthy not only makes his characters depressed, he makes everyone depressed and I love him for it.
Daniel is an ex-scientist, ex-corporate lackey currently living in Hungary with his voluptuous young wife teaching English to gypsies. He writes intermittently for his own entertainment and for those who are close enough not to be offended. He is currently co-writing a travel blog about his adventures (Amandango).