Tuesday, 26 November 2013

No Eye for Detail - Andrew Strong

I have always been very long sighted.  I like to think I inherited the genes not of the prehistoric hunter, but of the hunter’s lookout, squinting into the horizon for a lone mammoth or a woolly rhino.  Ever since school I’ve been a lookout.  I looked out of the window in history and in physics, I looked out of the window in maths.  I loved staring out beyond the rugby fields to the trees on the hillside, or the clouds steaming across the sky.  When I walk in the mountains, I find I want to look into the blue remembered distance and leave all that banal map reading stuff to the people with proper kit, state of the art compasses and good eyes. 

I’ve noticed that I like music for its texture rather than a melody, and have often wondered whether this is somehow connected to my long sight.  I think in big pictures, huge vistas, I’m not a great one for detail. 

It makes me wonder whether my physiology has affected the books I prefer to read.  I tend to go for atmosphere, mood, emotion rather than plot.  Maybe it’s because I’m long sighted, or very right brained.  Perhaps I was dropped on my head when I was a baby. 

I can’t tell you much about the plot of Crime and Punishment, but I recall damp stairwells, gloomy tenements.  A decade ago I read several John Banville novels, one after another. If you were to ask me what they were about, I’d shrug and pull a face.  But their mood is still with me, a part of me still dwells in them. 

Alan Garner’s The Owl Service I recollect for a sense of the uncanny, of stark landscape, the dark mystery of the woods.  I love Holes, not for its convoluted and slightly unlikely plot, but for the heat and endless desert. 

But more than any other children’s novel, it’s the Gormenghast trilogy, dense and sometimes a bit of a trudge, almost unreadable in parts, which still haunts me years after I first read it.  The incidents have long gone, what remains is like a dream.  Just as I prefer not to experience too much detail, so I can rarely remember any. 

And yet I know that the universe each of these books creates is just because of a writer’s attention to the detail I say I resist.  A writer who crafts a book with enough care will ensure word builds upon word, layer upon layer, building a universe from the soil to the stars, magically transforming word into image, and image into memory.


Sue Purkiss said...

Lovely post!

Penny Dolan said...

Interesting point about long-sightedness, Andrew!

Yes, the powerful "feel" of a book really does last. Maybe that's why people forget the unsatisfactory scenes and aspects of a book much loved on a first reading? And why they feel a slight sense of shock when they pick the book up and re-read it later? (That, and probably a poor memory in my case!)

You mention the Gormenghast trilogy. This is a book I've started several times, taken on holiday even, but within a few pages it always seems to be one that demands such an intense and lengthy commitment that I put off "the full read" for a time I'm less busy. It often reappears as a January resolution.

John Dougherty said...

We're all so different, aren't we? I need that story, those characters, to keep me hooked; I like my settings & atmosphere delivered strongly but economically. And in much the same way, it's melody first and foremost that grabs me in a piece of music.

But this post almost makes me wish it were otherwise.

Sarah Taylor-Fergusson said...

Nice post. This has given me something to think about this evening, Andrew, as I stare into the sunset! Very nice.

Stroppy Author said...

I agree! I remember the feel of a book rather than the details of plot. A lovely post, thank you.

Penny, I struggle to think of a time when you might be 'less busy' than on holiday! Are you sure you have got the idea of holidays? :-)

Katherine Langrish said...

I agree too! Great post, Andrew, thankyou. It's years since I read 'Gormenghast', but I can still see beams of sunlight slanting down on to a silent, red-painted staircase somewhere in that labyrithine place.