A different kind of inauspicious start

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Much has been written about the importance of the beginning of a novel.  Notwithstanding the volume that's been written on this topic, the essential message rarely varies: 

Undoubtedly good advice, but in this thicket of mono-messaging writers may lose sight of another risk that lurks at the opening of a novel: captivating the reader's attention with the appalling limitedness of the writer's point-of-view.

Such was my experience reading the Prologue of Errol Trzebinski's Silence Will Speak: A Study of the Life of Denys Finch Hatton and his Relationship with Karen Blixen.  First sentence: "It was dawn."  Not good, but not going to make me put the book down, either.  Trzebinski's first sentence sets the scene.  It's concise.  (Personally, I wouldn't start a book with the word "it," since "it" is supposed to refer to the foregoing noun, and by definition, at the first word of the first sentence of a novel, there's no foregoing noun - but whatever.)

No, the trouble in earnest started with this sentence, on the following page:  "The African sitting in the back of the truck reached forward to the woman and lightly touched her shoulder extending his other hand to point out what he had spotted, with his inherent native instinct, more swiftly than she."  My concern was not so much the omission of the comma after "shoulder" (although that bothered me, too), but the inclusion of the phrase "inherent native instinct."  Sorry, but the book was published in 1977 by The University of Chicago Press.  Hello editor?

The issues only multiplied from there.  Although I like to think of myself as someone who reserves judgment, I was fully turned off within the next two sentences, when Trzebinski describes a lionness feeding on the rotting carcass of an "obscenely prostrate bull giraffe" as "looking up from her vile feast."  (p. 2.)  I mean, really, it's one thing to be racist (e.g., Margaret Mitchell; still imminently readable), and quite another to be critical of the diet of wild animals.  What does Trzebinski want the lioness to eat?  Linguini alfredo?

Passages like these shift the nature of reading for me; I no longer continue to turn pages to find out what happens, but to see just how demented the author is.  With 309 pages of Silence Will Speak to go, however, I'm wishing silence had less to say.

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This page contains a single entry by Maya published on August 7, 2009 9:55 AM.

Tortured conclusions was the previous entry in this blog.

Myopia in Fine Arts is the next entry in this blog.

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