Thursday, April 05, 2007

Ninth Man in the Monarch, Keeper of Karate

Tobias Hill on being a writer-in-residence at Eton.

NB an idle thought on style. Hill lets a pan of milk boil over in the suite where he's staying, then reflects:

There is nothing seductive about the lactic mire of the electric oven. The Hodgson Guest Suite is indeed roomy, but it is cavernous and utilitarian, everything foursquare and scrubbed to the quick. 'All the mod cons' is an estate agent's way of putting it, too: all cons are present, but the mod is that of a bygone decade. Vinyl seats, flaked white goods, ironing board (though maybe all normal people have ironing boards; maybe it's just crumpled writers who don't). Marmoleum.

"The lactic mire of the electric oven": I like the phrase, it caught my eye, and yet I feel it's the kind of stylistic flourish that detracts from the effectiveness of the prose as a whole. Too poet-y for me, to be honest, as is the "Marmoleum" at the end; the diction of all of these sentences is interesting & striking and yet it sounds to me also slightly affected, not ringing quite true. For that phrase to really work for me, it would have to be mobilized in aid of something more like the Anthony Burgess or Vladimir Nabokov style: Burgess is demented and energetic, Nabokov is mandarin verging on precious but also with that slightly demented energy behind it. Here I feel the prose is undermotivated: style not quite sufficient unto itself and also insufficiently called forth by the occasion (is that "crumped writers" not coy?). Related, perhaps, to the kinds of insecurity Hill describes in the opening, as if he exerts himself to produce these flourishes partly out of a rush of social-educational anxiety & thinking about what he's supposed to be thinking...


  1. An iron to the crumpled grey matter might help.

  2. Utterly undermotivated! I hear lactic and think of acids, mothers, nothing steel like an oven. The inversion of the mod cons is also weakened by the disparity of the consonants, the perfection of the vowel. And indeed--the one word sentence!

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