Sunday, February 06, 2005

Bad Writing

I just tried to start reading a spy novel by Robert Littell: The Sisters. Amazon calls Littell one of our top writers of intelligent, ironic, and always entertaining espionage thrillers. I couldn't get much past the first page, however.

Here are the first two sentences:

"'I'm just thinking out loud," Francis was saying. An angelic smile manned the usual fortifications of his face."

We've only reached the second sentence, and I'm already bored. Moreover, nothing about the opening seems to work. Innumerable questions arise, just from those two sentences: How does a smile "man" anything? What is a "usual fortification"? Moreover, what is a "fortification" of someone's face? Again, how are facial "fortifications" "manned"? Why are such metaphors -- implying something medieval and military -- used to describe an "angelic" smile? Why is this so-called Francis smiling angelically at all, given that (if you read the rest of the page) he is merely beginning a discussion of hiring someone with "Mafia connections"? What's to smile about that? Why doesn't he simply have a normal and serious expression for that topic? In fact, why do we have to plow through overblown descriptions of his facial expressions in the first place?

The rest of the first page goes on in that vein, which is why I immediately quit reading. Maybe I'm missing out on a great book with an inauspicious beginning, but I don't want to waste the time to find out.

Ah, well. This reminds me why I usually don't like "intelligent" fiction.


Stuart Buck

2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Book snob. :)

Sarah

9:20 PM  
Blogger bacchus said...

You shouldn't be bored by a book after reading only one page. Read more, reflect upon your reading, that is what will make a book interesting and useful.

12:36 PM  

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