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Monday, February 9, 2015

Characters That Breathe

"Nora felt as far away from these two women as silence was from sound."

The last few novels I finished did not contain a single sentence approaching that kind of elegance. Author Colm Toibin consistently breathes life into "Nora Webster" (2014) without flourish. Study that revealing sentence carefully - no word longer than two syllables. Or try this:

"...they belonged to a time that was over and would not come back. It was the way things were; it was the way things had worked out."

That's Nora musing about letters her recently deceased husband Maurice wrote her when they first met. Not an ounce of cheap sentimentality - two words longer than a single syllable. Toibin's assured prose spoils me the same way Stephen Sondheim's masterful lyrics do. Strained or hackneyed metaphors in literature or cheap rhymes in lyrics (e.g. "time" and "mine") begin annoying me.

"Then he lifted his head and looked brave and determined. 'I don't take photographs of people anymore', he said calmly". That stopped me cold. Nora's teenage son Donal, an aspiring photographer, responds to a question about the lack of people in his current pictures. In two simple sentences, a gifted author conveys all that needs to be said about a boy who has lost his beloved Father. What was the last novel you finished where you could feel the characters breathe?

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