Monday, January 9, 2017

The Truth, by Michael Palin

'The Truth' was a novel that I hoped to read for some time.  In picking up a novel by an author I have never read I have a rule that I’ll persist to the 10% content point before choosing to conclude the whole.  One critical judgement at the 10% point is whether the main characters have been wholesomely developed, another is whether there is adequate orientation.

Free and unattributable
With this novel, I stopped short of the 10% mark due to irritating language issues.  Two issues were observed:

1.     Palin tends to write in long sentences and the content of such sentences adds little to the story line. 

2.     Some of the language is really odd.

An example of the long sentence issue is perhaps best illustrated on page 21 of the paperback:

“He tugged at the phone cord, which had twisted itself  around the cast-iron umbrella stand that had so delighted Krystyna when she’d spotted it in a local junk shop”

On analysing this sentence:

-        There are two subjects – a phone cord and a cast-iron umbrella stand.  The two subjects are unrelated.

-        If it were necessary, the sentence could conclude with mention of the umbrella stand and a second sentence could form to further detail aspects of the umbrella stand. So, “He tugged at the phone cord, which had twisted itself around a cast-iron umbrella stand.  The umbrella stand had so delighted Krystyna when she’d spotted it in a local junk shop”

-        As the sentence occurs amid a telephone conversation then perhaps all that is of immediate relevance (the reader have been earlier told on page 20 that the phone was on a long line through the house) is: “He tugged at the phone cord”.

-        If the author needs to develop an understanding of Krystyna - as particular to her junk shop buying habits - then it could occur elsewhere.


An example of odd language is on page 23 with two joining sentences:

“It was evening and he was at the kitchen table, absently flicking through the pages of what turned out to be yesterday’s Evening Standard. Jay had prepared supper for the two of them, as always a little stronger on the lettuce than he would have preferred”

 The oddities are:

 -        One does not absently flick through pages of a paper only to make the observation as to the age or date of the paper.  One flicks absently through a paper instead in a distracted mode.  One’s focus would typically be elsewhere.  Palin has allowed his author’s voice to interfere here.  We are not in the mind of the character, but instead in the mind of the author.  That is, the author pictures his character as being an Evening Standard reader and is crafting the character as one which the audience would consider as an Evening Standard reader.  The sentence would be adequate as: “It was evening and he was at the kitchen table, absently flicking through the pages of a newspaper”.

-    “A little stronger on the lettuce” sounds absolutely Pythonesque.  It is surely a throwback to Palin’s Python days.  Supper can be a little stronger on an ingredient that may have some bite – such as garlic or chilli – but lettuce hardly ranks as something that would sway a supper.  Lettuce lends instead to an expression of: “Jay had prepared supper for the two of them, as always with a quantity of lettuce that was more than he would have preferred”.  In any instance, the clues as the nature of the meal, that arise as the meal is consumed, do not suggest any presence of lettuce in the meal.  This clue perhaps suggests a pasta dish: “Mabbut sank his fork, all too easily, into something maroon and semicircular”.  To Palin’s defence this could be an oddity of the editing process rather than the writing process.


All that being said, I feel that while the reader was well orientated by page 23, the characters were thinly drawn.   



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