Dialogues, Elegant Dialogues – Instalment 2 of the Dialogues mini series
The second instalment of my mini series on Dialogues (launched with Dialogues, Glorious Dialogues) focuses on Elegance, defined by wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn as “the refined quality of gracefulness and good taste”. This is all about elegance, I underline, rather than eloquence or effectiveness or any other positive adjective whether or not beginning with “e”.
Elegant dialogues are the Waldorf Astoria of literature, the Concord of good reads and the Chanel of fiction. One reads an elegant passage and thinks: “yes, this is it, this Author’s got it!” You get carried away and begin to imagine how wonderfully tasteful and stylish the Author in question will be. Their homes effortlessly adorned by beautiful yet understated objects; their living rooms, in fact all rooms, easily deserving a place in interior design magazines. Not that the said Author would ever consider showcasing his or her home to the public, something which would surely be a little distasteful, would it not?
Being an avid reader I have a few thousands books under my belt, and yet I can only think of very few Authors the writing styles of whom I could describe as elegant. Indulge me for a nano-second: no classics will be mentioned in this post – my long gone school years had the involuntary effect of turning any future disposition I may have developed towards them as a grown up as sour as unsweetened lime and lemonade.
The “I-am-trying-too-hard” Authors are out too – effort clashes with elegance, full stop. (Perhaps you can think of any who fall under this category?)
Out again are the “I-am-so-cool-it-hurts” kind of, like, dudes and, you know, chicks of, like, contemporary urban writing, like, yeah man.
So who’s left? Well, le piece de la resistance of elegant dialogues is the, fortunately for his fans, super prolific writer Alexander McCall Smith, who is probably one of the few legal academics who never heard the words: stick to your day job, fellow!
And now just one example of Dialogues, Glorious Dialogues from Alexander’s extensive bibliography :
“I have a very healthy diet, ” said Irene. “You need have no worries on that score. And I take all the necessary supplements,”Nurse Forbes looked up sharply. “Supplements?” Irene smiled tolerantly. Nurses could not be expected to understand dietary issues. “Shark oil capsules. Slippery elm. Red raspberry. Wild yam.” She paused. Nurse Forbes was staring at her. Would she have to explain each of these?” Why are you taking these….these substances?” Nurse Forbes asked. Irene took a deep breath. It was going to be necessary to explain after all. “As you may know,” she began, “modern foods are lacking in certain important constituents. This is a result of farming techniques which…” “During pregnancy, “Nurse Forbes interrupted, her voice raised, “during pregnancy, mother should eat a healthy, balanced diet. She should not – and I repeat not – take non-medicinal supplements, herbal remedies and the like. These may be harmful to both mother and baby. And we do not want baby to be harmed, do we?”
Irene was silent. This would be risible, if it were not so insulting. Here was this….this bureaucrat, in her ridiculous uniform, telling me – me – what I should and should not take. And what did she know about slippery elm? Nothing. Nothing at all. This woman, this ridiculous Nurse Forbes was the state. She was the local, immediate face of the state presuming – yes presuming – to lecture me as if I were some sixteen-year-old first-time mother who subsisted on a diet of fish and chips. Absurd! They glared at each other.
For her part Nurse Forbes thought: this woman thinks that she is superior to me, she really does. Nothing I say to her is going to make any difference. But I must be tolerant. There is no point in alienating people, even somebody like this. It’s tempting, but it’s just not professional. So count to ten, and take it from there. (Love over Scotland – A 44 Scotland Street novel, pp. 262,263, Abacus).
What I find particularly elegant is the seamless shift from quoted speech to unquoted still in the first person, but expressing the inner as opposed to the public thoughts of the two women. Irene’s smugness is a hilarious theme that runs through the series. Check out her tyrannical approach to newspapers in her household (The world according to Bertie, p. 199, Abacus edition), or even better, tackle the whole series and you will not miss any of the sarcasm planted around this figure.
In the opening post to the Dialogues series I did promise a small and respectful stab at Mr Ken Follett, an Author of undeniable gift and talent, I am stating the obvious, but elegant?
So here it goes: I recently picked up Whiteout, which I had intended reading for quite some time. It is a thriller of great overall impact, well plotted, filled with fast moving events and a gorgeous, intelligent and independent female heroine with luscious hair and a figure to die for. The book just won’t fall off your hands. You literally have to use tremendous will power to stop reading at night or run the risk of turning up at work in the morning looking like a ghost-meet-zombie paler shade of yourself. So far so good.
And now for the respectful stab. Events, as you can imagine, turn rather nasty in the concluding chapters, with an innocent family falling hostage of a ruthless gang of misfits. As family members pull together and against all odds fight their way out of their captors’ hands, the writing style and dialogues lose some of their fluidity. For a few terrible paragraphs I thought I was reading a power point presentation. A list of actions is presented to the reader in tidy order, meticulously and schematically. Well, rather better than being thrown at you like a handful of small pebbles, hard and sharp, hitting you in too many parts of the face all at once and in no particular order. I will have to agree, and it was satisfactory that each and every character’s single movement was clearly reproduced to depict as precise a scene as possible. But elegantly so? This is where I will cease to agree.
As for the Author’s photograph, you are not an ugly man Mr Follett, au
contraire, but did the publisher really have to endorse such enlargement of your face at the back of Whiteout? The photo even replaces the customary summary of your novels, something which comes in handy when faced with extra secure plastic wrapping, impeding a sneaky preview of a story. I appreciate that the picture is taken by somebody you love – it shows in your relaxed, if perhaps slightly smug expression, or is it a touch of cheekiness I see transpiring? Irene would opt for the latter – but a smaller picture would have been, what is the word again? Ah yes…. more elegant?
Here are some web links which you may like:
For a list and further information on his books see:
A beautiful post on The charming quirks of others by a gifted blogger, herself in the upper set as far as elegance of writing is concerned – a definite “like” of her blog:
On passion for redbush tea, which I started drinking after reading the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency’s series;
- Is Your Book Dialogue Heavy? (breezybooksblog.wordpress.com)
- Dialogues, Glorious Dialogues (ofglassandbooks.wordpress.com)
- Fabre Session 9 – Dialogue (the-view-outside.com)
- “Bad movie dialogue speaks in complete sentences” (gointothestory.blcklst.com)