Thursday, January 18, 2007

Neither Great Nor Terrible...Thus Far

Currently I'm reading A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. Whereas it's relatively interesting, I'm 100 pages in and it's not thrilling me. Perhaps that will change, but I don't have very high hopes for Bray's language. It's not that it's poorly written; it's grammatically correct but littered with the most perfunctory adjectives. There's something painfully bland about describing a garden as "a wonderful garden," when one could call it a lush garden, a well-tended garden, an overgrown garden, or a jasmine-scented garden. It feels like Bray wants to be elegant with her language but is trying too hard and not succeeding. The result is both melodramatic and trite. Now, her novel is supposed to be a takeoff on the cheap gothic novels of the Victorian setting she is using, so perhaps it's a clever nod to that affected style of writing. I'm not convinced.

Bray's descriptions of the magical visions or occurrences in the story feel too vague and metaphysical to me, and several times I've had to reread passages where the events depicted weren't concrete enough to hold my interest. Thus far the narrative has also reminded me strongly of the movies Mean Girls and Dead Poets Society, if you can imagine such a combination, but set in Victorian England with magical bits. Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am a sucker for: 1. A high school movie featuring an outsider and a bunch of mean kids; 2. A movie where The Man gets it stuck to him; and 3. A movie with literature enthusiasts (even if it involves the tiresome Whitman and Thoreau). Oh, and I'm forgetting the cute boys in their matching wool coats and sweater vests. Alas, Bray's novel doesn't have enough strapping young lads in sweater vests to make up for her banality.

This is all loosely related to my current dismay towards the way in which we underuse our vocabularies. The English language is rich, and it honestly is a joy to learn new words and use them. People, I beg you to stop using the words awesome and blessed, especially if you use them three times in one paragraph. Instead, try using the word hackneyed in a sentence (if you're not familiar with this word, look it up. I'm taunting you, and you need to be aware of that). Go back, reread what you've written, and substitute some fresh and rousing adjectives! Let's all go out and buy nice new thesauri and do credit to our educations.

Recommended: If you want a great satire of the gothic novel, read Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey. If you want one of the best gothic novels (and possibly best novels) ever written, then it's Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre for you.

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