Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Booker Winner Full of Windy Abstractions!

Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times finds John Banville's The Sea, which won this year's booker prize last month, "stilted, claustrophobic and numbingly pretentious". Further she says that the book is filled with "windy, self-indulgent abstractions" and that it was "chilly, desiccated and pompously written". She also gives some choicest examples of those "abstractions":

[Banville]He describes a thunderstorm as a "spectacular display of Valhallan petulance" and a youthful crush as a "storm of passion" that left "the frail wings" of his emotions "burned and blasted by love's relentless flame."

She also furnishes a list of words, none of which I am proud to say, I have ever come across ("leporine," "strangury," "perpetuance," "finical," "flocculent," "anthropic," "Avrilaceous," "anaglypta", "assegais", "crepitant," "velutinous").

I can understand her criticism. Language like this does attract reader's attention to itself rather than what it is meant to describe and in the process often alienates the reader from the subject matter of the book. But sometimes, as in Nabokov's best works, linguistic playfulness does play an important role. Often they are meant to create an abstraction. Often alienting oneself from the immediacy of feelings and emotions is the goal of the writer and linguistic abstractions like these do help in that. I have not read any of Banville's books so can't say what his aim was in using those words though.

Kakutani also says that Banville, in his novels, has often attempted to "wed Joyce to Nabokov to Wim Wenders". Wim Wenders? What is he doing with Joyce and Nabokov? Later she claims that the narrator of the novel sounds like "an annoying Peter Handke character on a bad day". Now, Wenders and Handke worked together on Wings of Angels. But what has that got to do with Banville's novel?

Here is a profile which has a round-up of the debate over the booker prize from the same edition of the book review.

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