Tuesday, 22 October 2013
The Scent of Death by Andrew Taylor
Why make the first sentence of a book sound like a boring log line? This is the epitome of telling and not showing. The rest of the first paragraph describes a city:
...it shimmered like the new Jerusalem... I smelled the sweetness of the land and sensed the nearness of green, growing things...
Not very effective descriptive writing. Sweetness of the land could use a simile or some concrete odor to help place those readers whose imaginations have atrophied, and using the word things to describe something is just begging for a misinterpretation. I watched The Slime People last night and I'm associating, quite unintentionally mind you, that green, growing things refers to the slime people who'd invaded America from the sea. Using a word like "thing" suggests one is at a loss for words (on a subconscious level at least) or too bored or has read too much Rilke ("Thing" was apparently his favorite word). I was beginning to think this is a miserable attempt at artsy-fartsy, but then paragraph one goes ahead and ends with the date: Sunday, 2 August 1778.
The descriptive writing gets better in subsequent paragraphs as a plot desperately tries to force its way past the scented words wafting across the page. It emerges that New York is under attack.
First thing said:
"It's as if the town has been sacked."
With those words an inciting event is taking form. Unfortunately, because of that redundant opening sentence, this novel beginning must get a fail.