Beautiful writing covers a multitude of sins - should it?
Updated: Feb 7
They say that to be a good writer you need to be a good reader. I love reading but my literary diet has been almost vegan-like: restricted mostly to nutrition science, Christian fiction and non-fiction, and the Bible. I have been woefully starved of literary classics and so, in pursuit of a balanced literary diet, I decided that I would read every one of my son’s prescribed texts for IB Literature.
The reading list arrived and I eagerly read the reviews for each one: Sophocles’ Greek tragedies – great! ‘Woman at Point Zero’ – prostitution and female genital mutilation… gulp. ‘The God of Small Things’ – child sexual abuse and an anatomically detailed sex scene… gulp, gulp. ‘Perfume’ – mass murder of virgins… my excited anticipation extinguished. Was the school really going to make teenagers study such themes? Surely there was good literature with more uplifting themes? Or was I just an over-protective and out-of-touch mother?
‘But the writing is so beautiful,’ said my friend when I voiced my concerns.
Over the summer I read two of the prescribed texts plus ‘All The Light We Cannot See’. All three had beautiful writing that made me sigh with delight.
“How about peaches, dear?” murmurs Madame Manec, and Marie-Laure can hear a can opening, juice slopping into a bowl. Seconds later, she’s eating wet wedges of sunlight. (All The Light We Cannot See)
His feet were short and broad, and when he stood or walked his heels came together and his feet opened outwards as if they had quarreled and meant to go in different directions. (Things Fall Apart)
The jam was still hot and on its sticky, scarlet surface, thick pink froth was dying slowly. Little banana bubbles drowning deep in jam and nobody to help them. (The God of Small Things)
I have concluded that beautiful writing is like the honey that my mother mixed with crushed Panadol when we were ill. Themes and images that we might normally avoid slide into our mind on the sweetness of the writing.
On the flip side, beautiful writing eases the way for people to consider positive, uplifting themes that I find harder and harder to find in the bookstore.
So here's my goal for the year: to write not just functional drab-garb sentences but beautiful, sigh-worthy combinations of carefully crafted words.