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A Slow Wade in an Icy Sea
I had several headlines that I thought about using. The first one that popped into my head was, “A Book up with which I Will Not Put!” My second thought was, “Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing.” In the end, I decided to go with a phrase from the book itself; as soon as I read it, I thought it was a perfect summary of the book.
Yes, I did not like this book by first-time author Bruno Noble. I stopped at around 4%, though I did peek at other chapters to see if the other two protagonist’s stories were written in a similar manner as the lead-off protagonist’s, Isabella. Unfortunately, they were, so I did not continue reading.
What was the turnoff? The prose was some of the densest I’d seen outside of a science textbook. Sentences seemed to go on and on and were mini-essays unto themselves. These combined to make paragraphs that went on for multiple screens in my Kindle (and I don’t use large print). After a rather shocking prologue, Isabella first section (not listed as a chapter) was mostly a description of Isabella’s family and her house. Yes, 3% to 4% describing people and a place, with very little beyond that going on; the descriptions, too, were laden with a myriad of details, making it hard to sort out what might be important in the future. The next protagonist’s (Mie) story started with a detailed description of the telephone lines outside her house. The third protagonist’s (Sharon) story started with a description of the bedrooms in her family’s flat.
After reading Isabella’s first section complete, I was reminded of the Gertrude Stein quote about Oakland, “There is no there there.” (Yes, I am not using it in the exact context she did…but you know what I mean!)
Part of what made the text nearly unreadable was the grammar. Convoluted sentences are hard to punctuate correctly in any event, and sometimes, even if they are done correctly, the end result is still hard on the eye and inner ear. At times, the author added too many commas or put them in the wrong place; at other times, he completely eschewed commas that would have given order to the chaos, like the serial comma and the required comma before a coordinating conjunction combining two independent phrases. Tense seemed to shift willy-nilly, and sometimes it was hard to tell which point in time the author was talking about. Other style was a mixture of British and American English. While using double quotes for the very small amount of direct speech he had, he then used single quotes outside of direct dialogue and further strayed from what had seemed to be the convention he was using by placing trailing commas outside the single quote mark. This is permittable using an Oxford style guide that can be the standard for British writers, but it was not the American style he seemed to be following. I digress too much, perhaps, in the quagmire of grammar and style; excuse this copyeditor!
The author liked to use large, unusual, and sometimes foreign words in the book. The first one was lepidopterist; thank goodness Kindle has that automatic dictionary function, but authors shouldn’t depend on that. (Lepidopterist means a person who studies or collects butterflies and moths, by the way.) Meaning should be made clear by context or direct telling by the author. The German word for candy was also used, which could almost be inferred from the context; again, thank goodness Kindle does translations!
Let me not just tell but show some examples of what I’m talking about the prose of the book.
Some of the sentences were so long and tortured that by the end, I had to look back at the beginning or the sentence previous to determine what was originally talked about. Here’s an example, as Isabella describes her mother:
“She had come to England as a German language assistant and, despite a promotion to teacher, had finished by finding employment in an administrative capacity in one of the university’s many faculties. She had never enjoyed teaching as much as she had hoped, her love for her pupils remaining unrequited, and decided that if she couldn’t improve young people’s lives from the front line by teaching them the joys of the German language, she would assume her position in the supply train from where she would do her best to ensure their institutions of learning were efficiently run.”
Ack… After finishing the second sentence, I did have to go back to the end of the first to remind myself of what kind of job the author was even talking about!
I found this start of a sentence jarring: “His suit is blue, its trousers and his nostrils flared…”
I can’t recommend this book, unless you are looking to be distracted from something more painful.