The dangers of overwriting

22 02 2014

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I’ve just read a devastating review of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, written by no other than the writer of reading Like A Writer Francine Prose.
It’s the more devastating because Prose is a spectacular writer in her own right and someone capable of dissecting prose to its skeletal bits and highlighting past injuries, improper joint formations.
As I write that last sentence, I hesitate. Overwriting is a curse. It’s easy to get caught up in the flow of some spiralling metaphor and waft off to some puddle of murk.
According to Prose, that’s what happens in The Goldfinch. At one point she seems in despair, “Doesn’t anyone care about how something is written anymore?”, being very clear that this book’s failings are more so because it is being held up to be a literary novel.
It’s a cautionary tale for me, princess of the mismatched metaphor. Great in a funny novel, not so good in a serious one. I am proud of my ability to stick unusual things together, but I will now keep in mind that my cleverness may not be appreciated.
“Kill your darlings” they quote at writers everywhere, and it’s true. A clever turn of phrase should probably be terminated with extreme prejudice.
As for me, I think I’ll avoid The Goldfinch. 800 pages of thick prose about disastrous lives sounds too much for me in this gloomy weather.

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