In which I have a bit of a grumble…


I like to think  that in everyday life, I’m an easy going tolerant kind of person , but when it comes to books,  I can get incandescent with rage if I don’t like what I’m reading. I had to be physically restrained when I  took  The Da Vinci Code on a long plane journey, some time before it became a best seller. I still think it’s the worst book I have ever read. But there are plenty of other things in other books that can turn me into a screaming harpy.  Here are a few of my unfavourite things:

1)     When a character’s appearance  is described by having that character looking into a mirror and listing the results; she peered into the glass and saw a pair of sparkling, almond-shaped eyes, with a tip-tilted nose lightly dusted with freckles, and a half-open pair of very  pink lips…  No, please. ..

2)     Talking about description, enumerating every chair, every table and bookshelf and jam jar in  a room, every tree , every blade of grass and every spider on a hill. Wuthering Heights has almost no description in it, and yet the reader comes away with the most  vivid sense of desolate moor, wind-blown thorns and thundery clouds. In description, less is definitely more.

3)     And I have a perhaps irrational prejudice against characters, usually teenage or younger, who Want To Be A Writer when they grow up. Too often, I think, this is an excuse for sloppy writing, so the character can be more sensitive and more observant than they’d be otherwise. ( I annoy my book group by giving vent to this prejudice every time the subject arises, which  seems to be quite often.)  I was a child who Wanted To Be A Writer, and I don’t think it made me any more sensitive and observant – quite the contrary, I think.

4)     And another thing I have a prejudice against,  that maybe doesn’t quite stand up to scrutiny, is a character who makes him or herself a lovingly described cup of instant coffee, as though this is some sort of significant ritual. Carefully, she spooned the fragrant granules into her favourite blue mug, watching their brown waterfall, and musing as she smelled the rich aroma, about how much she hated Jerome. As she poured on boiling water and saw the granules dissolve into a sweet-scented dark brew, she decided to herself that, yes, tomorrow, she would leave him…

5)     Following on from people who decide ‘to themselves’, (yes, I’ve probably been guilty of that one- but who else can you decide to?) characters who ‘shake themselves inwardly’ or ‘give an inward shudder’.

6)     And now , the grammar policewoman:

Any writer worth her salt should know that ‘disinterested’ does NOT mean ‘not interested.’  ‘Not interested’ means ‘not interested’

‘He was sat on his chair’   ‘I was laying on my bed…’ It’s probably unusually naive of me, but for years I didn’t really understand what Bob Dylan meant by ‘Lay, lady, lay.’ I couldn’t quite work out what he was asking her to do, though I realised it was nothing to do with eggs. Still, I guess it makes a much better title than ‘Lie down, lady, lie down…’

Well, that’s probably enough grumbling for now.  But I’d love to hear about some of the things that turn you into grumbly readers too.

3 thoughts on “In which I have a bit of a grumble…”

  1. 1. alternate when it should be alternative; distinct when it should be distinctive…less/fewer confusion – I could go on and on and on…
    2.the kind of writing that screams: I have done lots of research on this and I’m bloody well going to put it all in even if it destroys the narrative line
    That’ll do – for now!

  2. 1. Polemics when I just wanted to be entertained. A writer who cannot resist displaying her or his social/political prejudices, killing, for me, an otherwise good story (example: Sansom ‘Dominion’).
    2. Pages of back story before we get to the action (example: Flynn ‘Gone Girl’)
    3. ‘Discreet’, when the writer means ‘discrete’ (where was the editor?)

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