Skip to main content

The Long and Short of It

Call it stuffy, but there'a a charm about long-winded sentences. 

People my age - and by that I mean the early-to-mid thirties - have had a disgusting time with school texts, which were expressly chosen for their remarkable abstruseness. Most of us were put off with the language, given the  endless probing into seemingly harmless pieces of text and losing marks to our seemingly erroneous interpretations (at this age, I am told that I am never wrong, I can decipher things the way I want; evidently an adult's imagination holds more value than a teenager's). Abstruse works were seldom long-winded, but vice-versa always held true, and does so - to some extent - even now. Excerpts from classics (I remember Shakespeare's pieces - abridged, they said but that didn't make a spot of difference at that age) lacked any modern adherence to placements and abounded in queer, archaic phrases jumbled in a sentence spanning three lines; we were taught conjunctions like 'nevertheless', 'while', 'meanwhile', 'however', which sounded very adult, but never permitted me to fit my answers withing the designated blank against the respective question. We soon realised, that, while a knowledge of how to score gigantic monsters of sentences is a sign of being erudite and in full command of the language, it is easier to make do with a chipper sentence. Let me rephrase the above, as an example: Sure, you know how to use big words. But please don't. It hurts the brain. 

Having said that, I admit I love fitting a story in a sentence. Surprisingly, there are also present-day authors who pamper my inclinations and resort to a certain level of grandiose imagery. And we all lap it up, with good reason. Take this remarkable excerpt from 'Silkworm' by J.K. Rowling (under the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith): 

"... he was not sure that anything useful would come of this evening's expedition and yet, almost against his will, he was struck anew in the frosty haze, of this winter's night by the aged beauty of the old city to which he owed a divided childhood allegiance."

Nostalgia drips from the above sentence. Also, it would be hard to explain this feeling of gradually becoming aware of the nostalgia, had the sentence been broken anywhere in between. This is the marvel created by Rowling; she can get away with writing complicated text simply because they are offset by the incredible ideas or feelings expressed in them. Also, her stories are never frenzied. They have a measured pace, with pauses for retrospection. Long-winded text only accentuates the same, with good effect. 

Take Haruki Murakami on the other hand; or more specifically, his English translations by Philip Gabriel. One of the key attractions of Murakami's/Gabriel's work is the ridiculously simple tone and flow of words. The sentences are not at all fancy, and like Rowing's, they reflect the same, and in some case, deeper emotions. An excerpt in question, from "Kafka on the Shore' by the same author:

"She starts the engine, turns it off for a time, as if she's thinking about something, then turns the key again and drives out of the car park. That blank, silent interval between leaves you sad, so terribly sad. Like fog from the sea, the blankness wends its way into your heart and remains there for a long, long time. Finally, its a part of you."

The strength of emotions is too primordial, and the simplicity of the words adds to the basal nature of the emotions. 

It would be unfair to compare the two works, being of very different genres. I believe, some part of a reader's appetite for the style of writing is also determined by her life experiences, particularly at the instance of the reading exercise. From a personal point of view, there are days when I'm well-plugged in the flow of life, and well-composed, ornate language acts as an inspiration or a culmination of my complex schedule. Then there are days, when everything becomes a drag; processing anything beyond three words at a go seems like a waste of effort. In the former circumstance, something like a P.G. Wodehouse or an Alistair McLean or a John Le Carre is perfect accompaniment; for all other situations, I would rather settle for a Neil Gaiman, or a Salman Rushdie or a Lee Child. 

Either way, this is really a matter of good fortune that our literary universe - even the modern ones - abound in all forms of writing styles. There are genres, certainly, which get typified by a particular style of writing, which is isn't to say that exceptions do no exist. The current lifestyle we lead - as I am made to believe from the generation before - is far too occupied and would perhaps, find greater solace in simplification. I refuse to believe that in its entirety. Simple writing is not synonymous with simple ideas. Rather, in many cases, its quite the contrary. The length of a sentence is thus a poor proxy for the depth it reveals.


Popular posts from this blog

Man-Eaters of Kumaon - Jim Corbett

Genre: Non-fiction
Rating: 5/5

This one is decidedly a classic, so there is little point in reviewing this book. It is a beautiful one, without doubt. 
Personally, I avoid any form of entertainment (books, movies, plays, anything) which features cruelty - either directly or tacitly - towards animals (I have not yet seen any of the Planet of the Apes movies, Ant Man was uncomfortable too). So deciding to read this book took a certain degree of convincing. 
Much credit goes to the beautiful cover of the book. This one is an Aleph Classics (co-founded by David Davidar of The House of Blue Mangoes fame, and Rupa Publication) edition. In terms of sheer elegance, the cover design is unmatched.

The palette concept of jungle green coupled with the late afternoon sun creates an ambiance even before you delve into the pages. I picked out the book from a thin pile on a shelf in the little HigginBothams book-store near Charing Cross in Ooty, one biting winter evening (more on that later), such w…

Higginbothams of Ooty

It took us some time to decipher that the name of the crossroad was Charing Cross. After all, it is an unexpected name for an Indian crossroad in Tamil Nadu, and the mildly opinionated chap driving us to our hotel had a heavy accent. Charing Cross turned out to be a triangular enclosure, with an imposing fountain (we later discovered that it was named the Adam's Fountain; it is three-tiered, the second one topped by four very colourful cherubs). Since we had arrived in the middle of the afternoon in the thick of winter, the roads were thronging with people and vehicles. Shops were bustling and business appeared brisk. Our driver skilfully negotiated the traffic as we passed woollens shops, gift houses, eateries, groceries and mobile-phone shops. 
We returned to the market later in the evening, after having deposited our luggage. Both my husband and I had been fending off a nasty bout of flu and needed to restock our now near-empty medicine pouch. Charing Cross in the evening (thi…

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

Genre: Classic, Drama Rating: 5/5
There is no arguing the sheer brilliance of John Steinbeck. The long list of accolades and the controversy he had courted in his days (some of which still continues) is proof of his influence in the current society. Some deem him (astoundingly) mediocre, partly on account if his opinionated take on events; others, consider his work as American classic. Neither argument is completely false, though I, personally, align myself with the latter. If it would be possible to keep aside for a moment, the political ramifications of Steinbeck's work, one cannot deny the strength of his writings. He does not waste words; his economy only accentuates the somewhat lean personality of the settings and the characters. Everything is stripped unappealingy bare and covered flimsily with sardonic humour. A bit like J.D. Salinger, in some ways, but with a bigger lens on the society.    
The man is a Nobel laureate (the logic of which, too, is widely contested), and his…