Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

Nadine Gordimer’s turn of phrase

One of the ideas behind setting up ‘Is there a book in this blog?’ was to create a space where contributors could jump right in and make off-the-cuff observations about books/writers without the need to build up a structured review piece (there are plenty of those elsewhere in Three Monkeys Online).

With that spirit in mind, let me share two short quotes  from the title story in Nadine Gordimer’s recent collection of short stories, Beethoven Was One-sixteenth Black

“One-sixteenth. The trickle seemed enough to be asserted
out of context? What does the distant thread of blood matter in
the genesis of a genius.”

Three short sentences that tell a story in their own right,  and tell it with a rhythm that, in the case of the final sentence, could be sung.

Further along we read:

“Perhaps because he’s getting older — Morris doesn’t know
he’s still young enough to think fifty-two is old — he reflects
occasionally on what was lived in his lifeline-before-him.”

In Lynne Truss’s Eats shoots and leaves
(a book which fills me with fear and delight, in equal measure), she turns her attention to the usage of the dash in punctuation – something particularly pertinent in these email/txt influenced times. It could have been written with Gordimer’s sentence above in mind:

Are dashes intrinsically unserious? Certainly in abundance they suggest baroque and hyperactive silliness, as exemplified by the breathless Miss Bates in Jane Austen’s Emma:

“How do you do? How do you all do? – Quite well, I am much obliged to you . Never better. – Don’t I hear another carriage? – Who can this be? – very likely the worthy Coles. – Upon my word, this is charming to be standing about among such friends! And such a noble fire! – I am quite roasted.”

Yet the dash need not be silly. The word has identical roots with the verb “to dash” (deriving from the Middle English verb dasshen, meaning “to knock, to hurl, to break”) and the point is that a single dash creates a dramatic disjunction which can be exploited for humour, for bathos, for shock.

Incidentally, if you enjoyed Eats Shoots and Leaves, you may well get a web 2.0 style kick out of a harmless fraud, the new site set up by our very own Shane Barry. The site presents regular quizzes where the careful reader is challenged to spot grammatical errors in a given text.

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