Archive for Big Readers A place for discussing books and all things bookish.
 


       Big Readers Forum Index -> Post any literary quizzes or games here!
miranda

A new Challenge!

I thought it was about time we had another Challenge.  So you all know the rules:  read the following extracts and then grade them for literary quality and then for pleasure, in other words, which one you like best and which one least!  

I've taken out the names and any clues to place, but if you do know the book or author, try not to give it away!  


Ok, here we go:

A)
On one the first days of May, some six months after old Mr T's death, a small group that might have been described by a painter as composing well was gathered in one of the many rooms of an ancient villa crowning an olive-muffled hill outside of the gate.  The villa was a long, rather blank-looking structure, with the far-projecting roof which this country loves and which, on the hills that encircle the city, when considered from a distance, makes so harmonious a rectangle with the straight, dark, definite cypresses that usually rise up in groups of three or four beside it.  The house had a front upon a little grassy, empty, rural piazza which occupied a part of the hilltop; and this front, pierced with a few windows in irregular relations and furnished with a stone bench lengthily adjusted to the base of the structure and useful as a lounging-place to one or two persons wearing more or less of that air of undervalued merit which in this country, for some reason or other, always gracefully invests anyone who confidently assumes a perfectly passive attitude - this antique, solid, weather-worn, yet imposing front had a somewhat incommunicative character.  It was the mask, not the face of the house.  It had heavy lids, but no eyes; the house in reality looked another way - looked off behind, into splendid openness and the range of the afternoon light.  In that quarter the villa overhung the slope of its hill and the long valley, hazy with colour.  It had a narrow garden, in the manner of a terrace, productive cheifly of tangles of wild roses and other old stone benches, mossy and sun-warmed.  The parapet of the terrace was just the height to lean upon, and beneath it the ground declined into the vagueness of olive-crops and vineyards.  It is not, however, with the outside of the place that we are concerned; on this bright morning of ripened spring its tenants had reason to prefer the shady side of the wall.  The windows of the ground-floor, as you saw them from the piazza, were in their noble proportions, extremely architectural; but their function seemed less to offer communication with the world than to defy the world to look in.  They were massively cross-barred, and placed at such a height that curiosity, even on tiptoe, expired before it reached them.  


B)
His trial had been fixed for the next day.  Exactly when, of course, neither N nor anyone else knew.  Probably it would be during the afternoon, when the principals concerned - judge, jury and prosecutor - managed to converge on the same courtroom at the same time.  With luck his defense attorney might also appear at the right moment, though the case was such an open and shut one that N hardly expected him to bother - besides, transport to and from the old penal complex was notoriously difficult, involved endless waiting in the grimy depot below the prison walls.  
N had passed the time usefully.  Luckily, his cell faced south and sunlight traversed it for most of the day.  He divided its arc into ten equal segments, the effective daylight hours, marking the intervals with a wedge of mortar prised from the window ledge.  Each segment he further subdivided into twelve smaller units.  
Immediately he had a working timepiece, accurate to within virtually a minute (the final subdivision into fifths he made mentally).  The sweep of white notches, curving down one wall, across the floor and metal bedstead, and up the other wall, would have been recognisable to anyone who stood with his back to the window, but no one ever did.  Anyway, the guards were too stupid to understand, and the sundial had given N a tremendous advantage over them.  Most of the time, when he wasn't recalibrating the dial, he would press against the grille, keeping an eye on the orderly room.
"Brocken!" he would shout at seven-fifteen as the shadow line hit the first interval.  "Morning inspection!  On your feet, man!"  The sergeant would come stumbling out of his bunk in a sweat, rising the other warders as the reveille bell split the air.
Later, N sang out the other events on the daily roster: roll call, cell fatigues, breakfast, exercise, and so on around to the evening roll just before dusk.  Brocken regularly won the block merit for the best-run cell deck and relied on N to program the day for him, anticipate the next item on the roster and warn him if anything went on for too long - in some of the other blocks fatigues were usually over in three minutes while breakfast or exercise could go on for hours, none of the warders knowing when to stop, the prisoners insisting that they had only just begun.
Brocken never inquired how N organised everything so exactly; once or twice a week, when it rained or was overcast, N would be strangely silent, and the resulting confusion reminded the sergeant forcefully of the merits of cooperation.  N was kept in cell privileges and all the cigarettes he needed.  It was a shame that a date for the trial had finally been named.  
N, too, was sorry.  Most of the research so far had been inconclusive.  Primarily his problem was that, given a northward-facing cell for the bulk of his sentence, the task of estimating the time might become impossible.  The inclination of the shadows int the exercise yards or across the towers and walls provided too blunt a reading.  Calibration would have to be visual; an optical instrument would soon be discovered.  
What he needed was an internal timepiece, an unconsciously operating psychic mechanism regulated, say, by his pulse or respiratory rhythms.  He tried to train his time sense, running an elaborate series of tests to estimate its minimum in-built error, and this had been disappointingly large.  The chance of conditioning an accurate reflex seemed slim.
However, unless he could tell the exact time at any given moment, he knew he would go mad.


C)  
Under the palm of one hand the child became aware of the scab of an old cut on his kneecap.  He bent forward to examine it closely.  A scab was always a fascinating thing; it presented a special challenge he was never able to resist.
Yes, he thought, I will pick it off, even if it isn't ready, even if the middle of it sticks, even if it hurts like anything.  
With a fingernail he began to explore cautiously around the edges of the scab.  He got a nail underneath it, and when he raised it, but ever so slightly, it suddenly came off, the whole hard brown scab came off beautifully, leaving an interesting little circle of smooth red skin.
Nice.  Very nice indeed.  He rubbed the circle and it didn't hurt.  He picked up the scab, put it on his thigh and flipped it with a finger so that it flew away and landed on the carpet, the enormous red and black and yellow carpet that stretched the whole length of the hall from the stairs on which he sat to the front door in the distance.  A tremendous carpet.  Bigger than the tennis lawn.  Much bigger than that.  He regarded it gravely, setting his eyes upon it with mild pleasure.  He had never really noticed it before, but now, all of a sudden, the colours seemed to brighten mysteriously and spring out at him in a most dazzling way.
You see, he told himself, I know how it is.  The red parts of the carpet are red-hot lumps of coal.  What I must do is this: I must walk all the way along it to the front door without touching them.  If I touch the red I will be burnt.  As a matter of fact, I will be burnt up completely.  And the black parts of the carpet ... yes, the black parts are snakes, poisonous snakes, adders mostly, and cobras, thick like tree trunks round the middle, and if I touch one of them, I'll be bitten and I'll die before tea time.  And if I get across safely, without being burnt and without being bitten, I will be given a puppy for my birthday tomorrow.
He got to his feet and climbed higher up the stairs to obtain a better view of this vast tapestry of colour and death.  Was it possible?  Was there enough yellow?  Yellow was the only colour he was allowed to walk on.  Could it be done?  This was not a journey to be undertaken lightly; the risks were far too great for that.  The child's face - a fringe of white-gold hair, two large blue eyes, a small pointed chin - peered down anxiously over the banisters.  The yellow was bit thin in places and there was one or two wideish gaps, but it did seem to go all the way along to the other end.  For someone who had only yesterday triumphantly travelled the whole length of the brick path from the stables to the summer-house without touching the cracks, this carpet thing should not be too difficult.  Except for the snakes.  The mere thought of snakes sent a fine electricity of fear running like pins down the backs of his legs and under the soles of his feet.
He came slowly down the stairs and advanced to the edge of the carpet.  He extended one small sandelled foot and placed it cautiously upon a patch of yellow.  Then he brought the other foot up, and there was just enough room for him to stand with the two feet together.  There!  He had started!  His bright, oval face was curiously intent, a shade whiter perhaps than before, and he was holding his arms out sideways to assist his balance.  He took another step, lifting his foot high over a patch of black, aiming carefully with his toe for a narrow channel of yellow on the other side.  When he had completed the second step he paused to rest, standing very stiff and still.  The narrow channel of yellow ran forward for at least five yards and he advanced gingerly along it, bit by bit, as though walking a tightrope.  Where it finally curled off sideways, he had to take another long stride, this time over a vicious-looking mixture of black and red.  Halfway across he began to wobble.  He waved his arms around wildly, windmill fashion, to keep his balance, and he got across safely and rested again on the other side.  He was quite breathless now, and so tense he stood high on his toes all the time, arms out sideways, fists clenched.    He was on a big safe island of yellow.  There was lots of room on it, he couldn't possibly fall off, and he stood there resting, hesitating, waiting, wishing he could stay forever on this big safe yellow island.  But the fear of not getting the puppy compelled him to go on.
Step by step, he edged further ahead, and between each one he paused to decide exactly where he should put his foot.  Once, he had a choice of ways, either to the left or to the right, and he chose the left because although it seemed the more difficult, there was not so much black in that direction.  The black was what had made him nervous.  He glanced quickly over his shoulder to see how far he had come.  Nearly halfway.  There could be no turning back now.  He was in the middle and he couldn't turn back and he couldn't jump off sideways either because it was too far, and when he looked at all the red and all the black that lay ahead of him, he felt that old sudden sickening surge of panic in his chest - like last Easter time, that afternoon when he got lost all alone in the darkest part of Piper's Wood.
He took another step, placing his foot carefully upon the only llittle piece of yellow within reach, and this time the point of the foot came within a centimetre of some black.  It wasn't touching the black, he could see it wasn't touching, he could see the small line of yellow separating the toe of his sandal from the black; but the snake stirred as though sensing his nearness, and raised its head and gazed at the foot with bright beady eyes, watching to see if it was going to touch.
'I'm not touching you!  You musn't bite me!  You know I'm not touching you!'
Another snake slid up noiselessly beside the first, raised its head, two heads now, two pairs of eyes staring at the foot, gazing at a little naked place just below the sandal strap where the skin showed through.  The child went high up on his toes and stayed there, frozen stiff with terror.  It was minutes before he dared to move again.
The next step would have to be a really long one.  There was this deep curling river of black that ran clear across the width of the carpet, and he was forced by his position to cross it at its widest part.  He thought at first of trying to jump it, but decided he couldn't be sure of landing accurately on the narrow band of yellow on the other side.  He took a deep breath, lifted one foot, and inch by inch he pushed it out in front of him, far far out, then down and down until at last the tip of his sandal was across and resting safely on the edge of the yellow.  He leaned forward, transferring his weight to his front foot.  Then he tried to bring the back foot up as well.  He strained and jerked and pulled his body, but the legs were too wide apart and he couldn't make it.  He tried to get back again.  He couldn't do that either.  He was doing the splits and he was properly stuck.  He glanced down and saw this deep curling river of black underneath him.  Parts of it were stirring now, and uncoiling and beginning to shine with a dreadfully oily glister.  He wobbled, waved his arms frantically to keep his balance, but that seemed to make it worse.  He was starting to go over.  He was going over to the right, quite slowly he was going over, then faster and faster, and at the last moment, instinctively he put out a hand to break the fall and the next thing he saw was this bare hand of his going right into the middle of a great glistening mass of black and he gave one piercing cry as it touched.
Outside in the sunshine, far away behind the house, the mother was looking for her son.

D)  
I got up at nine, drank three cups of black coffee, bathed the back of my head with ice-water and read the two morning papers that had been thrown against the apartment door.  There was a paragraph and a bit about MM, in Part II, but N didn't get his name mentioned.  There was nothing about LM, unless it was on the society page.
I dressed and ate two soft-boiled eggs and drank a fourth cup of coffee and looked myself over in the mirror.  I still looked a little shadowy under the eyes.  I had the door open to leave when the phone rang.
It was N.  He sounded mean.
'M?'
'Yeah, 'did you get him?
'Oh sure.  We got him.'  He stopped to snarl.  'On the Ventura line, like I said.  Boy, did we have fun!  Six foot six, built like a coffer dam, on his way to see the Fair.  He had five quarts of hooch in the front seat of the rent car, and he was drinking out of another one as he rode along, doing a quiet seventy.  All we had to go up against him with was two county cops with guns and blackjacks.'
He paused and I turned over a few witty sayings in my mind, but none of them seemed amusing at the moment.
N went on:
'So he done exercises with the cops and when they was tired enough to go to sleep, he pulled off one side of their car, threw the radio into a ditch, opened a fresh bottle of hooch, and went to sleep hisself.  After a while the boys snapped out of it and bounced blackjacks off his head for about ten minutes before he noticed it.  When he began to get sore they got handcuffs on him.  It was easy.  We got him in the icebox now, drunk driving, drunk in auto, assaulting a police officer in performance of duty, two counts, malicious damage to official property, attempted escape from custody, assault less than mayhem, disturbing the peace and parking on a stage highway.  Fun, ain't it?'
'What's the gag?' I asked.  'You didn't tell me all that just to gloat.'
'It was the wrong guy,' N said savagely.  'This bird was named Stoyanoffsky and he lives in Hemet and he just got through working as a sandhog on the San Jack tunnel.  Got a wife and four kids.  Boy, is she sore.'
TheRejectAmidHair

Thanks for putting this up, Miranda. I'll get back to this within the next day or so.
miranda

No problem, I enjoy doing these and it's been a while since we had one.
MikeAlx

Yep, definitely long overdue!
Chibiabos83

I have a long history of failing to take part in these, but I too will try and post some thoughts. These excerpts grab the attention in different ways.
miranda

It's nice that you all wanted it back but...... is anyone actually gonna have a go?

Embarassed
county_lady

miranda wrote:
It's nice that you all wanted it back but...... is anyone actually gonna have a go?

Embarassed


Laughing I've read them through once and they are interesting enough. However I will require further re-reads and more time before posting any thoughts.
Chibiabos83

Yes, I'll need a little more thinking time, but I'll try to put something up over the weekend.
TheRejectAmidHair

A) The sentences are not merely long, but meandering. They seem to me often very poorly structured. Take for instance, the following:

“The house had a front upon a little grassy, empty, rural piazza which occupied a part of the hilltop; and this front, pierced with a few windows in irregular relations and furnished with a stone bench lengthily adjusted to the base of the structure and useful as a lounging-place to one or two persons wearing more or less of that air of undervalued merit which in this country, for some reason or other, always gracefully invests anyone who confidently assumes a perfectly passive attitude - this antique, solid, weather-worn, yet imposing front had a somewhat incommunicative character.”

It’s not the length of the sentence that’s the problem here, but the fact that that in the long middle section - “pierced with a few windows … which in this country” – we have 47 words with no punctuation at all: the reader gets no opportunity to pause for breath.  And even within that section, we have “one or two” in close proximity to the similarly constructed “more or less”, and it jars. The writer seems to have a poor ear for rhythm. The words merely follow each other monotonously, none of them making any particular impression.

I am a bit puzzled about the intended readership. It’s clearly not intended for the bestseller charts: the publishers would never have passed such long sentences. And yet, I’d expect a more “literary” author to have a better ear for prose rhythms. As to whether I’d want to read this the answer is “no”. It’s not merely that I found this difficult to read: the difficulty was not rewarded, as what the passage communicates is frankly unremarkable.


B) The first paragraph is pretty unremarkable, although I think I’d have joined the first two sentences together, to read: “His trial had been fixed for the next day, though neither N nor anyone else knew the exact time.” But there’s nothing to complain about.

But in the second paragraph, something goes wrong: there is a change of tense that introduces a discontinuity in the narrative. From “N had passed his time usefully”, we move to “he divided its arc…” i.e. we change from the past perfect tense to the past tense. This is sloppy writing, and not something I’d expect from a professional writer.

There’s also a lazy over-use of adverbs. For instance: “He had passed his time usefully.” That’s a clumsy word – “usefully”: surely he could have written “He had made good use of his time”. The next sentence starts with another adverb – “luckily”. It all seems a bit clumsy – the work of a writer who is not really thinking about what he or she is writing, and who seems little concerned with elegance of construction. Maybe I’m biased: I have an irrational aversion to writers who are happy to start a sentence with “Anyway,.…”.

I have a feeling that my heart would sink if anyone were to choose this as the next Book Group read.

C) “…The yellow was bit thin in places and there was one or two wideish gaps…”

That can’t be right, can it? Other than that, the prose seems far more accomplished than in the first two excerpts. The sentences are well-structured with a  good ear for rhythm, and the writer can maintain continuity from sentence to sentence without resorting to “Anyway…” What puzzles me, nonetheless, is why the author should spend so much time on this childish fancy. Of course, it’s fascinating to enter the mind of a child, but once we get an idea of what the child is thinking, such extended elaboration does seem a bit superfluous. A child is bored, and, after picking a scab (that bit is nicely described), he makes up a game for himself. Well and good. But I can’t really see what is gained by describing that game in such detail. Maybe it’s clearer in the context.

But judged out of context, I’d guess this is a writer who can write, but doesn’t have anything particularly interesting to write about.

D) This is either a thriller-writer heavily influenced by Chandler, or, possibly, Chandler himself. The rhythms are very Chandleresque:

“I dressed and ate two soft-boiled eggs and drank a fourth cup of coffee and looked myself over in the mirror.  I still looked a little shadowy under the eyes.  I had the door open to leave when the phone rang. “

Three consecutive sentences all starting with “I”; all those clauses in the first sentences joined together with “and”: it’s all classic Chandler – merely relating the sequence of events, inviting the reader to join them up and make sense of them.

This is far and away the best of the four excerpts. It has a certain quality that the others don’t: an individual character. I’d guess this is Chandler, and that M is Marlowe – but Chandler has had so many imitators, that it’s hard to be sure.

In terms of personal preference: D C A B

In terms of perceived “literariness”: the same as above, I think, as I personally define “literary” as “what I like”!   Very Happy
miranda

Thank you, Himadri!  I knew I could rely on you!   Laughing
Caro

I will definitely have a go, but have been a little busy the last couple of days.  Please don't close it yet.  

Cheers, Caro.
miranda

Don't worry, I won't close it for at least another week.
Caro

Hi Miranda,

This will be rather quickly done.  I think my personal choices and my literary ones won't be very different.

A:  I had trouble with the first sentence of this and it didn't get any better!  "as composing well was gathered..." took me a while to get my head around.  And then I came across 'outside of the gate' - one of my personal bugbears.  What is the point of the 'of'?  And then later the house (I think) had heavy lids but no eyes. Please no!

I just thought this was dreadful writing (I might have called it pretentious nonsense, but in view of Himadri's feelings about pretentious I won't).  Suffice to say there were far many subordinate clauses that only just held together, the imagery was at times ridiculous, certainly overblown, and I stopped reading before the end.  I hope this is not a great favourite, either of yours, or worse still of mine!

B:  This was better or at least more my style.  Clear sentences, interesting ideas and a story that is obviously going somewhere.  Although there was no specific characterisation, the scenario was interesting enough to give us an interest in the prisoner and his situation.  I am not sure that is a straight narrative though - perhaps a crime genre, but I don't think so.  But maybe a hint of apocalypse or science fiction somehow.  I don't know why I have that feeling though.  Perhaps because it seems an unlikely situation for a realistic novel.

C: Great piece of writing, I thought.  We are given not just a wonderful depiction of a child's view of his world, but the reader actually enters into his terror and feels it with him, while at the same time knowing there is no snake in the carpet beyond the imagination.  The writing is clear but interesting and the short sentences built the suspense.  I really liked this and thought it was excellent.  Is it a short story, rather than a novel?

D:  This feels like a hard-boiled thriller to me.  Good enough, but not something I feel especially drawn to.  Very masculine in both style and story and dialogue.  Could be a very good writer like Chandler, perhaps, or a fairly ordinary one like Harlan Coben.  I assume American.  I found the speech a little odd, though - on the one hand it has several informal words presumably to be typical of a certain lack of education or class, but then the first paragraph of his speech is quite formal in structure.  The passage of what he could be charged with is in police-speak so while formal in style it is a learned style, so not so out of keeping with the words like ain't, hisself, etc.  

My preferences:  C by a long way, B, D, A, also by a long way.

Literary:  C, B, D, A.  (Though I think A is trying to be literary it fails rather badly.)
miranda

Thanks Caro!
county_lady

Caro re. A: you said -" I hope this is not a great favourite, either of yours, or worse still of mine!"

When I got to the middle of A: I had a terrible thought - "I hope this isn't Henry James!"

I will come back to these tomorrow. Wink
Apple

This is a really good idea, I haven't had chance to read through properly and decide yet, so please don't close it yet!!
Caro

I don't like Henry James, but I can't believe this would be him.  Henry James could write!

Cheers, Caro.
miranda

Don't worry, closing day will be around about next Friday.
TheRejectAmidHair

If that excerpt was Henry James, then I'll certainly end up with egg on my face. But I'll carry on maintaining that whoever wrote that sentence - even if it was Henry James - should be ashamed of themself!
miranda

Just bumping in case anyone else wants a go.....
MikeAlx

I will do Miranda, but it might be this evening or even tomorrow. Long extracts take a little longer to study!
MikeAlx

A) At first I didn't like this - too many digressions (or dependent clauses, or whatever they're called). But I liked it better with subsequent reads. It strikes me as American ('just the right height to lean upon', 'outside of the gate'), perhaps very late 19th century or early 20th. The author likes adjectives and alliteration ('straight, dark, definite cypresses') - and, despite all the inserted clauses, seems to have a sense of euphony. I like the description of the hill as 'olive-muffled', and that phrase 'curiosity, even on tiptoe, expired before it reached them'. In some ways it reminds me of F. Scott Fitzgerald, but I think he would have trimmed the fat of all those digressions. So instead I'll have a wild guess at Henry James.

B) This is recent, I think - within the last thirty years, probably. 'Reveille bell' makes me think it's American (unless it's a military prison). The protagonist is obviously intelligent and something of a control freak, which makes me wildly speculate that it might be a certain Stephen King novel, which I haven't read but have seen as a film.

C) This arouses curiosity - is the child's game simply that, or is it indicative of an obsessive-compulsive character trait? I don't like the prose style. '...a fine electricity of fear, running like pins down the backs of his legs...' - isn't that a rather mixed metaphor? A mix of cliched metaphors at that. There's a clumsy repetition of 'arms out sideways', which could have been more vividly expressed in the first place. There is a certain degree of 'layering', indicating an attempt at psychological description - the bit about being 'lost all alone in the darkest part of Piper's Wood'. I was struck by the word 'glister' - an unfamiliar usage to me. Also the last sentence, '...the mother was looking for her son'. Not 'his mother'. So - the boy's mother, or someone else? And does the failure to cross the carpet safely serve as a metaphor for something else, or is that all it is? Hard to get a handle of what the author is trying to achieve in this passage. But as I said, nothing about the style of writing arouses my interest. I suspect this is also fairly recent - last couple of decades?

D) I knew this was familiar, so I looked it up and found I was right! I read this book a couple of years back, and the fact that I remembered this passage suggests it must have a certain vividness. That said, I think there are much better passages in the book. It's an enjoyable book, even though the plot is frankly rather daft. I don't think it's giving away too much if I say it's American, and written in the 1940s. I could give a ship-load of other clues, but I won't. Wink

Well, so what's lit, and what's not. I think A is literary, D is pulp at it's literary finest, C thinks it's literary but isn't, and B is competent bestseller writing.

Lit. merit: ADBC
Personal preference: about the same
miranda

Thank you Mike!
Chibiabos83

I do want to do this, Miranda, but am not sure I'll manage in time. I have become involved with something else that is taking up a lot of my time and may continue to do so for a while. So if I happen not to post anything, please don't keep it open beyond Friday on my account!
MikeAlx

Looks like A and C are controversial then!

Never mind, I'll be away on holiday when the egg lands on my face...  Wink
miranda

No problem, Chib!

Mike - It is killing me keeping quiet until Friday!   Laughing
Caro

I'm going to be on holiday too! Himadri will be able to manipulate the results without us around to check!
TheRejectAmidHair

I'm just worried that A will turn out to be Henry James. So if it does turn out to be James, can  say here & now that it is a superb piece of prose? And if it isn't James, I stand by my opinion that its rhythms are poorly judged.

I think that covers everything...
Caro

More than its rhythms are poorly judged.  I don't care if it was Tolstoy; it was awful.  Though, unlike Mike, I didn't read it more than once - in fact I didn't actually finish the passage at all.  

Cheers, Caro.
MikeAlx

Well if Himadri's hedging his bets, if it's not Stephen King, B might be Papillon. Or anything else set in a prison.  Wink
Joe Mac

This is a nice idea, but I'm totally at sea. I'll just say that the prison piece is almost certainly not Papillon and that when reading 'D' I though of John Steinbeck - probably only because of the time period and the apparent setting in California. I've read too little Steinbeck to have even a half decent recollection of his style.
The others? Not a clue in the world. I look forward to Friday's revelation.
MikeAlx

Yeah, the Papillon thing was a bit of a joke (though I haven't read it, only seen the film). I do know you didn't generally wind up on Devil's Island until after your trial!
miranda

RN Singer wrote:
This is a nice idea, but I'm totally at sea. I'll just say that the prison piece is almost certainly not Papillon and that when reading 'D' I though of John Steinbeck - probably only because of the time period and the apparent setting in California. I've read too little Steinbeck to have even a half decent recollection of his style.
The others? Not a clue in the world. I look forward to Friday's revelation.


It's ok because the point of the exercise is actually to talk about the pieces and how literary they are and how much you enjoyed them.  And then to rate them from A to D.

IT IS NOT A GAME OF GUESS THE AUTHOR, PEOPLE!     Laughing

As all the regulars should know!  

So RN, if you want to have a go, help yourself.  You don't need to know the name of the author.
county_lady

Sorry Miranda I have neglected these and all serious reading this week as I'm suffering with sinusitis (I blame the nice weather Sad ) but here I go.

A) Oh dear I did think of Henry James. I thought of all the faults that others complain of in his writing but unlike James' prose this seems very unpolished. Everything is ponderously over-described with unneccessary padding turning the longer sentences into an obstacle course, even I can write like  that.
If the house fronts onto a piazza where is the gate that the olives are "outside of"!? Ah further on we find the garden and terrace are at the rear it must be there but why mention in the first place?
Is this an early piece by an author who later learned to edit and polish? It could be from anytime in the last 150 years, literary maybe, at least it's an attempt.

B) This gives a workmanlike account of the prisoner's obsessive mind but nothing is described in detail only a handful of adjectives are used in the whole excerpt.
I think it is post 1950s a good story but not literature.

C) An interesting passage fully entering into the child's (why never "the boy"?) fantasy and concentration. Not overwritten so intense but not menacing I can't decide on a genre could it be a memoir? Probably literary.

D) A fun read, M seems to be a cop not a private dick. I like this but wouldn't expect it to be great literature.

Literary ACBD

Personal preference DCAB
county_lady

On reading the whole thread I notice Caro mentioned SF for excerpt B. I had a vague thought that it might be an alternative history but then dismissed it.

Also like Mike, to me A. became more interesting on each re-read.
miranda

Thanks County Lady, and if you'd had sinusitis then you have my forgiveness and sympathy.  I get that and the pain is horrendous!   Do you feel like your eyes are being pushed out from the inside?  And the back of your neck is being squeezed in a vice?   And your head is full of concrete?
county_lady

miranda wrote:
Thanks County Lady, and if you'd had sinusitis then you have my forgiveness and sympathy.  I get that and the pain is horrendous!   Do you feel like your eyes are being pushed out from the inside?  And the back of your neck is being squeezed in a vice?   And your head is full of concrete?


Laughing All of that plus my ears and teeth ache and every noise echoes!
miranda

And when you turn your head the concrete moves!     Laughing

Don't know why we're laughing, it's bloody agony!
TheRejectAmidHair

miranda wrote:
And when you turn your head the concrete moves!    


Hmm... I'm not too sure about the rhythm of the prose here. The sentence seems underpunctuated. It may be Faulkner, but he'd never write a sentence so short. Given that the sentence starts with the word "and", I'd guess the writer is that bloody useless blogger Chatterjee.

And yes, it's definitely literary.
Chibiabos83

Beautiful example of iambic pentameter, whoever it's by.
miranda

tongue  to the lot of ya!


Laughing
miranda

Anyway...... shall I do the reveal now?  Or does anyone want a bit longer?
miranda

Well, as no one has raised their voice in protest I shall do the reveal now.


God, I've so been looking forward to this!  Laughing

A - Guess who?    Henry James!  Portrait of a Lady.   Himadri, don't you ever tell me about great writers!     Laughing

B - Chronopolis by JG Ballard.  
Not my favourite Sci-fi author but I quite enjoyed this one.   The extract is from the beginning of the story.  It's about a man who is obsessed with the measurement of time in a world where it is illegal.   And almost forgotten.  
It's a very interesting story about the breaking of rules.  And about the loss of something that we just cannot imagine losing.  How would our society function without the measurement of time?   But how that use can restrict and stifle a society if the 'pedants' are allowed too much power.  I got the feeling that Ballard is not a lover of pedants which gives the story quite a twist as the 'hero' is a pedant to beat all pedants but also the rebel.  

C - The Wish by Roald Dahl.
This is from a selection of short stories called Skin.  Quite an interesting collection but the extract is my favourite.   And one person did guess it was a complete story.   First time I read this I got really wrapped in it.   I was so absorbed in what the Child felt and it brought back such strong memories of being an imaginative child.  
I do like Dahl.  I grew up on him and much preferred his childrens stories to the sugary stuff little girls were usually given back then!  

D -  As most of you guessed, this is Chandler.   It's from Farewell My Lovely which I think is one of his darker stories.  Just before this extract something really horrible has happened and this conversation really made me laugh the first time I read it!    I do like the light and shade in Chandler.
TheRejectAmidHair

Damn! - it was old Henry James! All I can say is that old Henry ought to be hanging his head in shame for writing such a crap sentence. Basically - you've had it, Henry, old chap! I'm never going to take ypu seriously ever again!

As for JG Ballard, you'd think he could be a bit more consistent with his tenses....

But Raymond Chandler ... what can one say? Absolute genius! In fact, I think I'll take a Chandler book tonight for a bit of bedtime reading. (And if you ever do watch a film version of Farewell My Lovely, make sure it's the 40s film with Dick Powell, and not the 70s remake.)
miranda

I've seen that 70s version I think.  Is it the one with Elliot Gould?  Terrible casting!
county_lady

Laughing Thanks Miranda A) doesn't really do Henry James any favours but I still put him in my top ten.

B) is a Ballard I've not read but I will look it out as I've a fancy to read more SF in 2010.

Is C) complete? It is very effective in it's intensity.

D) A Chandler re-read is in order, I didn't recognise this.
miranda

C is a complete story.  I was just gonna do a little bit but then I decided it would be better to repeat the whole story so you could get the full flavour.
TheRejectAmidHair

miranda wrote:
I've seen that 70s version I think.  Is it the one with Elliot Gould?  Terrible casting!


The Elliot Gould film was The Long Goodbye, directed by Robert Altman. It was highly rated when it was released, but for many Chandler fans (including myself) it was a travesty of the original novel. The remake of Farewell My Lovely starred Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe, and, frankly, is not a bad film, but the 40s film starring Dick Powell (and directed by Edward Dmytryk, who was later imprisoned during the McCarthy witch hunts for his communist associations) is even better. But then again, I'm a huge fan of 40s film noir.
miranda

Ah yes!  I have seen that.  It's not a bad film, I agree but Mitchum was too old by that point to play Marlowe.
Apple

Well I've missed the boat, sorry Miranda!! I've not been around for a few days or so never mind that was really good not that any of those authors meant a thing to me as I've not heard of nearly all of them. But just for the record after reading them I was drawn to C the most. That one was my favourite.

Also can I just ask unrelated what is your avatar a picture of?? it looks like some kind of mutant darlek!! (no offence or anything)
county_lady

Apple wrote:

Also can I just ask unrelated what is your avatar a picture of?? it looks like some kind of mutant darlek!! (no offence or anything)


Apple it is obviously a baby dalek in a knitted suit or maybe it is crocheted? Wink
miranda

Apple wrote:
Well I've missed the boat, sorry Miranda!! I've not been around for a few days or so never mind that was really good not that any of those authors meant a thing to me as I've not heard of nearly all of them. But just for the record after reading them I was drawn to C the most. That one was my favourite.

Also can I just ask unrelated what is your avatar a picture of?? it looks like some kind of mutant darlek!! (no offence or anything)


It's a knitted dalek!    Laughing   I got the pattern off the internet and have knitted five of them for various people.
MikeAlx

Ah, how amusing that A) was indeed Henry James! A bit earlier than I thought - I guessed the date of writing was 15-20 years later. I agree that on the macro-level the sentences are not well-constructed, with too many inserted clauses and some questionable logic. However, at a finer-grained level, I thought some of the words and phrases were very deliberately chosen and not characteristic of a slapdash writer - 'olive-muffled hill', or the bit about curiosity expiring on tiptoe, which is a metaphorical image worthy of a poet. I must admit that James was not much more than a guess for me (not having actually read him). I estimated the era of the prose, had a hunch that it was by an American, and put that together with James' reputation for convoluted sentences and attention to language.

I was also pleased to recognise D as the Chandler. I read it a couple of years back, the only one of his I've read, and something about the passage instantly rang a bell. It's a fun book, even though the plot is rather silly.

I've never read any Roald Dahl, and this story (C) doesn't really make me want to. That's fine, as I'm sure I'm not the intended audience!

B I didn't spot as Ballard, despite having read quite a lot of his work (though not this story). I suspect this must be a short story from the 1960s. It doesn't seem as polished as some of his later work. Knowing the concept behind the story explains some of the choices which Himadri criticises - the slippage of tense (surely intended to create a sense of temporal disorientation) and the wording of the first couple of sentences (Himadri's alternative doesn't work so well within the conceptual framework, because the fact of not knowing the exact time is unremarkable - flagged by that phrase 'of course' in Ballard's version). I agree there are too many adverbs. This is fairly typical of SF of the 1960s and 70s.

Anyway, thanks Miranda - that was fun. We should do this more often.
miranda

Thanks Mike!  I love to do them!

The Ballard is a short story from an anthology I have.  The slippage of tense does happen all through the story and, you're right, does add to the sense of the dislocation of time in the story.  

And it was first published in 1961 and was part of the New Wave of Sci-fi.  Which was a reaction to the Campbellian 'gung ho' Sci-fi of earlier.
TheRejectAmidHair

I was just looking through my copy of The Portrait of a Lady, and - after the first pew pages which are truy awful (has any other novel of comparable stature started with such a naff opening sentence?) the prose, though convoluted, is actually are rather elegant. Whichever page I turn to, I find beautifully constructed sentencees. But, whether through accident or by design, Miranda has given us a real stinker. I take Mike's point that some of the phrasing is very fine, but that long unpunctuated stetch in the middle really is rather poor, I think.

As for the Chandler, I do love that prose. It is individual, and instantly recognisable. I'm quite pleased I picked that as my favourite excerpt.
miranda

Laughing     It came down to a choice of four excerpts and I picked the one that was easiest (less boring!) to type.    TBH, I tried to read this but couldn't.  And yes, it was a bit naughty of me to pick this book especially for you.  But it wasn't just that.   There probably are very elegant setences and Henry James must be a good writer as he is still read and admired.  It's just not my kind of writing.
Caro

Oh dear I thought I had posted something here, but I suppose the interruption I had meant I inadvertently wiped it all before pressing send.

I was quite happy with all this.  I thought A was appallingly written, but I always run a mile from anyone described as even vaguely reminiscent of Henry James.  

And pleased to see C was by Roald Dalh.  I heard him described the other day as the best of all children's writers, and this passage seemed to me to not only get into a child's mind, but ensured the reader felt something of the same worries, while also holding in their heads the absurdity of all this.

And I can now put aside the thought of reading Raymond Chandler - readable enough, but nothing to get very excited about.  And I probably won't read Ballard either, though I am rather pleased to have recognised this wasn't quite realism.  

So thanks muchly for that, Miranda. One day I shall put forward a set myself.

Cheers, Caro.

       Big Readers Forum Index -> Post any literary quizzes or games here!
Page 1 of 1
Create your own free forum | Buy a domain to use with your forum