Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The crucial matter of diction

Must share this devastatingly immaculate comment from Nicholas Lezard's rave review of Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos, chosen from readers' suggestions for the Guardian First Book Award, and which he says has 'no such slips':
Readers of Emma Donoghue's Room may have wondered how her five-year-old narrator fails to understand the word "stable" when applied to a patient's condition, yet is quite capable of transcribing words such as "catatonic". Readers tend to forgive this kind of thing these days – the slipping of authorial control, the fumbling of register. Well, I don't. If you're going to have an imprisoned child narrate a novel, then not so much as a word should be out of place. Otherwise it's like seeing a boom microphone in the frame, or a legionary wearing a wristwatch. (Sometimes, of course, such mistakes are deliberate, but not, I think, in this instance.) 


Kathleen Jones said...

Couldn't agree more. Though I'm guilty of some embarrassing slips myself, fortunately most picked up by a very good editor. Isn't the problem now that there are very few good editors and even fewer of those have time to go through books looking for continuity errors?

Elizabeth Baines said...

Well, it's true there's less editing going on - the judges of the Guardian First Book award have complained about the matter. On the other hand, in the matter of diction/voice, as opposed to continuity errors and points of fact, one can't help thinking it's down to the author, a question of what Lezard calls authorial control, something that requires an ear and psychological focus, and that this is what that sorts the sheep from the goats.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

True enough. Although she still landed a vast sum for the book, whether howler-ridden or not!

I lost belief in the character completely when such howlers occurred. But I read on quickly to see what happened - it was a shame. Until that point it was so good, a mon personal avis, of course!

nmj said...

I must say I disliked this book and cannot understand the hype. I could barely finish it and missed out huge parts. Of course, the subject matter is harrowing, and the voice is innovative to begin with, but I quickly tired of this child's voice, and craved an adult voice, which made me feel slightly guilty, given the subject matter. I did not read sufficiently closely to see the inconsistencies. I think 'child narratives' are always going to be tricky, cos they can often be precocious and annoying. Though in summer I read Niccolo Ammaniti's I'm not Scared and loved it.