“A wicked thing to do” – Priest on Tidhar

Christopher Priest is not a fan of Lavie Tidhar’s The Violent Century:

English prose can be subtle, exciting, descriptive, rhythmic, mood-inducing, beautiful, shocking. Good prose is a required art, and to scatter short sentences in undigested lumps throughout a novel is a wicked thing to do.

Then he really goes in for the kill, calling Tidhar out on particulars:

A fug of smoke cannot ‘crescendo’; the word ‘oblivion’ means the state of being forgotten or disregarded, and is not a synonym for ‘annihilation’; similarly, there is no such word as ‘obliviating’; air does not condense out of mouths in cold weather, but breath does (Tidhar gets this right later, so he knows the difference); someone who has a hole blown out of his head is described as ‘very dead’, which is presumably much more dead than just dead; ‘”We don’t age,” the Old Man said’, which suggests he must have been born old; colours don’t ‘leech’ away.

violent-century-lavie-tidharI might disagree with Priest on “very dead,” depending on the context — its nonsensicality is kind of its point, and it can be used in a jocular spirit (I’d also like to point out to Priest himself that his own phrase “a hole blown out of his head” isn’t really correct, either idiomatically or conceptually). And I don’t mind it when an author doesn’t follow standard dialogue punctuation. Priest seems a bit fuddy-duddyish here — if it’s good enough for Joyce and McCarthy, it’s good enough for me.

Still, it’s a great review, and it did sort of confirm my own impression of Tidhar’s book. I might read it at some point, but it was already low on my list.

By the way, it’s interesting that Priest mentions “recent Batman movies directed by Christopher Nolan” — Nolan’s film of Priest’s own novel The Prestige is fantastic (as Priest has pointed out in the past), a real masterpiece, incredibly subtle and assured in its plot and pacing.

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