Sunday, November 02, 2008

Floweriness is for gardens

Also in the David Robinson book (see post below; David Robinson. In cold ink: on the writers' tracks. Edinburgh: Maclean Dubois, 2008) is an interview with the Scottish author, Robin Jenkins. It talks of Jenkins's preoccupation with moral choices (the author himself was a pacifist and conscientious objector in the second world war) and the effect this has on his writing. In it, 'descriptions are spare and sparingly used: the moral dilemma is at the heart of Jenkins's writing, not the floweriness of the prose.' It then suggests:

When he was a teacher at Dunoon Grammar School... he applied the same principle to his teaching, marking out whole pages of Sir Walter Scott which his pupils could ignore, so as to get to the bones of the plot. Even as a reader, he skips descriptions whenever he comes across them.

While recoiling slightly from the dead-hand of Calvinism which is behind such functional minimalism, I nonetheless agree, and wish I'd had a teacher like that at school. It's why I find it so difficult to write novels rather than short stories: I just find I have something specific to say and say it, job done.

I have the same difficulty in real life of course, which is why you'd never accuse me of being a great conversationalist. Which does make it slightly strange that now, as I'm teaching myself the art of writing book reviews (see examples below) I find that I'm far too wordy and need to learn to be more pithy. It's a curious contradiction. I wonder what the reason is for it?

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