Sunday, 25 September 2016

Really Bad Writing - By Gaslight - Steven Price...

So, I do have a penchant for stories based in Victorian England, probably because of my love for Charles Dickens and other English classical authors. I also like to try out new authors, to see how they fair in that genre.  What I don't like is to find an untried author who believes they are so good already that they can take egregious liberties with the grammar of the language, with the result that what would have been a promising and entertaining tale is ruined by their foolish "author's license"!
Such a book is By Gaslight by Steven Price.
Now, I do know well the American - or, even more sadly, in this case, Canadian - philosophy over the English language that runs along the lines of "we need to change it so much so that it's American, not English", but sometimes the need to be different leads to such a bad result that it makes a story unreadable.  The apparent love-HATE relationship that they have with the humble comma, for instance, leads to situations where sentences lose their structure and cohesion, and become minefields of re-read, re-read just to get their meaning clear, causing the reader to struggle to get a flow in the writing, thereby destroying their ability to enjoy the tale.  Some times writers do this out of ignorance, but most often they do it because some other writer/mentor fed that attitude to them. In either, and/or any other case, it is wrong! Commas serve distinct purposes in the language, and to wilfully (a) neglect and (b) remove them only leads to sloppy, and often incomprehensible writing.  In By Gaslight, in an attempt to be too artsy-fartsy than he has the skill for, Mr. Price takes this to the Nth degree, and any child in an English primary school would have had their knuckles rapped for such bad work.
But as if that weren't bad enough, Mr. Price has, either through ignorance or yet another puerile attempt at artsy-fartsiness, also chosen to TOTALLY ignore the use and function of quotation marks! While I know, through editing the books of a number of North American authors, that they do have trouble with the rules of dialogue, I had never thought that totally ignoring them was part of their repertoire!  Mr. Price proves me wrong, alas!
The result is that the narrative runs continuously, and the reader is not aware of the fact that words are supposedly being spoken by a character until they happen to meet a (often correctly used!) comma, followed by a dialogue tag - ', Steve said.' or ', Paul hissed!'  This is not only distracting, it, again, causes the reader to often rethink or recast what they have just read, making the flow of the narrative very choppy and cumbersome.
I'd like to think that this was totally Mr. Price's fault, but I really do believe that his publisher and their editors are also to blame for these atrocities, as no editor worth his or her salt that I know would allow such depravity to be visited upon their readers.  The sad thing is - the book is actually a damned good yarn, and I wouldn't persuade any reader not to read it just because of the incompetence of the author, his editors, and his publisher.
Taking the abuses of the English language that American (and Canadian writers) like to think they are good at to such an extent in the name of art is really nothing more than a failure to understand why there are rules to the language in the first place. Otherwise, it is just a jumble of words!

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