Regular 8LW commenter Rachel Beecroft recently introduced me to Gail Carriger (thanks, Rachel!). As I read the first few pages of Soulless, I felt a smile spread across my face and a great big Ahhhh! bubble probably formed above my head. The heroine Alessia Tarabotti’s world is complete and beautifully drawn and the characters are fascinating, but most of all I loved the author’s voice, which is witty, and rapier-sharp.
Most of my favorite books are written in close third person POV, which figures, because it suits the style of romance I like, where both hero and heroine get a voice and the story is experienced entirely through the eyes and thoughts of the viewpoint characters. There’s no place for anything that puts distance between the reader and the characters, be it asides from the author or words like ‘saw’ or ‘thought’. (For more on close or deep POV, check out this great post from Kay.)
Sometimes though, I read a book where the author’s voice is so confident and engaging and their word-smithery is so wonderful that at least half the fun is in listening to them tell the story. I don’t want them to step out of the way and let the characters get on with it. I want their take on what’s happening. Chances are it won’t be a romance, but most likely everything written by that author will find its way on to my keeper shelf.
I’m still working my way through Ms Carriger’s oeuvre, but I’m hooked. Here’s the heroine’s take on her preternatural state:
“she had made certain to read oodles of ancient Greek philosophy dealing with reason, logic and ethics. If she had no soul, she also had no morals, so she reckoned she had best develop some kind of alternative.”
Here are snippets from half a dozen of my longstanding word-candy favorites. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
Terry Pratchett. Pick any page from any of his books and you’ll find something wonderful. This is from Men At Arms:
“Three and a half minutes after waking up, Captain Samuel Vimes, Night Watch, staggered up the last few steps to the roof of the city’s opera house, gasped for breath and threw up allegro ma non troppo.”
EF Benson. I love his genteel and deadly social warfare. Mapp and Lucia begins:
“Though it was nearly a year since her husband’s death, Emmeline Lucas (universally known to her friends as Lucia) still wore the deepest and most uncompromising mourning. Black certainly suited her very well, but that had nothing to do with this continued use of it, whatever anybody said.”
Dorothy Dunnett. Her first book, The Game of Kings, introduces the dazzling bad-boy hero Francis Crawford of Lymond:
“Lymond’s own men had known he was coming. Waiting for him in Edinburgh they wondered briefly, without concern, how he proposed to penetrate a walled city to reach them.”
Loretta Chase. Lord of Scoundrels doesn’t stick to deep third romance POV. We do go deep in the hero’s head, but there’s plenty of authorial exposition throughout the book. There’s also a prologue, and many a sittin’ and thinkin’ scene. I wouldn’t change a thing. Here’s the author telling us about Dain v Jessica:
“He didn’t know that throwing her was the exact opposite of what he wanted to do. He didn’t know that the lessons he wanted to teach her were those of Venus, not Mars, Ovid’s Ars Amatoria, not Caesar’s De Bello Gallico.”
Peter Temple. I don’t often read thrillers and I’m picky about books written in first person, but I love Australian ex-journalist Temple’s hero Jack Irish. Here’s a sample from the beginning of Bad Debts:
“There were dirty shirts and underpants all over the main bedroom and its bathroom. The mirror-fronted wall of cupboards held three suits, two tweedy sports jackets and several pairs of trousers on one side. On the other hung a nurse’s uniform, a Salvation Army Sally’s uniform, a meter maid’s uniform, and what appeared to be the parade dress of a female officer in the Waffen SS. With these went black underwear, some of it leather, and red suspender belts. My respect for Mrs Pick, florist and signatory to the house’s lease, deepened. By all accounts, she had a way with flowers too.”
Christopher Brookmyre. Another thriller writer, very Scottish, foul-mouthed, dark, violent and very funny. Not recommended if you’re easily offended. Even his titles are unmistakable –Boiling A Frog, A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away, The Sacred Art of Stealing, All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses An Eye. This is the opening paragraph of One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night:
“William Connor was standing outside a disused cattleshed on a bright Highland summer’s morning, ankle-deep in cowshit, liquidised mercenary raining splashily down about his head from the crisp blue sky above. He wasn’t an overly superstitious man, but this was precisely the sort of thing that tended to make him wonder whether fate wasn’t trying to drop just the subtlest of hints.”
Are there any writers you read for the pure pleasure of the author’s word-smithery?