Friday, 17 December 2010

Bad Writing

At this dark and gloomy time of the year I need something to cheer me up. I always derive schadenfreude from bad reviews (not of my own works of course, fortunately these are few - on the rare occasions when my books are reviewed). The new Christina Aguilera vehicle Burlesque seems to be this year's Christmas Turkey in the cinema (I watched Showgirls on telly a couple of years ago and it didn't seem as awful as I had been led to expect. although there were some choice scenes, mostly involving Kyle Maclachlan).

Probably my favourite book review is this one by Philip Henscher, makes me laugh every time; the book in question was heavily hyped in advance of publication and then disappeared rapidly. So intrigued was I that I went to a bookshop and leafed through it and indeed it was difficult to find a well written sentence anywhere within it.

I strive to ensure that my books are clearly written and I spend hours rewriting and proof reading, but errors always creep in, not always of my doing. Clearly I'm not alone in finding Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code the worst written bestseller I've ever read. Even the title really annoys me - art historians have always called him Leonardo and I've never heard of a 'symbologist'. The book is littered with incorrectly used words, poor grammar and the kind of sentences that would be rejected immediately in an evening class for aspiring writers. Mind you, he's done very well from it.

The bits that still stick in my mind are the occasion when someone at Scotland Yard picks up the phone and says, 'Hello, this is the London police' and the journey south from Biggin Hill airfield to London; it also seems to have been one of the first novels where the 'research' was pasted in from Wikipedia - see the description of the Louvre for example and don't get me started on the whole Templars, Holy Grail mish mash that overturned years of careful scholarship painstakingly debunking The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail construct. He also repeated the fallacy of millions of witches being executed in Europe in the middle ages which had been refuted by numerous academic works in the last 30 years.

Another writer who really irritated me when I read one of his novels was Colin Dexter: was it the use of 'hebdomodal' instead of 'weekly', or the sickening middle brow smugness of Inspector Morse as his eye roves his bookshelves and notes the intellectual tomes on display? I am not alone, as I've found on a site dedicated to poor penmanship. A contributor offers this from The Secret of Annexe 3:

"Soon the two friends were seated facing each other in the lounge bar, the surgeon resting his heavy-looking dolichocephalic skull upon his left hand.

But these minor worries could hardly compare with the consternation caused on the Monopoly front by a swift-fingered checker-out from a Bedford supermarket whose palm was so extraordinarily speedy in the recovery of the two dice thrown from the cylindrical cup that her opponents had little option but to accept, without ever seeing the slightest evidence, her instantaneously enunciated score, and then to watch helplessly as this sharp-faced woman moved her little counter along the board to whichever square seemed of the greatest potential profit to her entrepeneurial designs.

She could recall, quite certainly, clearing away after the soup course; picking up the supernumary spoons and forks that marked the place of that pusillanimous spirit from Solihull, Doris Arkwright; standing by in the kitchen as a Pork Normandy had slithered off its plate to the floor, to be replaced thither after a perfunctory wipe; drinking a third cocktail; dancing with the Lord High Executioner; eating two helpings of the gateau in the kitchen; dancing, in the dim light of the ballroom, a sort of chiaroscuro cha-cha-cha with the mysterious 'Rastafarian' - the latter having been adjudged the winner of the men's fancy-dress prize; telling Binyon not to be so silly when he'd broached the proposition of a brief dive beneath the duvet in her temporary quarters; drinking a fourth cocktail, the colour of which she could no longer recall; feeling slightly sick; walking up the stairs to her bedroom before the singing of 'Auld Lang Syne'; feeling very sick; and finally finding herself in bed."

That sentence would put Henry James to shame. More laughs can be had by reading Dexter's author blurb; it's because of that blurb that I keep my own short. I use it as a warning against pomposity.

1 comment:

  1. Colin Dexter is anything but pompous. His books reflect his love of crosswords and a nice sense of irony - the latter quality sadly lacking in the review you quote and your own joyless assessment of the writer's work here.