How can I ever write a book?

When others have written the one I wanted to write. 

Take We are all Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. She has the humour about families I want to write. Even stolen some of my lines. When I shared this with a friend, he responded with:

Well, all I can say is, write a book that you don’t want to write and hope no else wants to write it either!!!


As it goes, We are all… turns into the book I wouldn’t write – the topic morphs into something very unexpected. If you do plan on reading it, which I recommend, don’t read any reviews or look at the last few pages of the book. Regular readers will know I don’t like suspense as a technique. This isn’t suspense as some cheap trick to manipulate the reader. It’s wrapped up in how we remember things and how we tell our stories. So don’t go looking for acknowledgements or those little reviews or previews of other books they sometimes have in the last few pages. 

The other reason I couldn’t write a book: the lyricism, the poetry, the original metaphoric language of Lawrence Durrell’s writing. I’ve read Justine, the first volume of his Alexandria trilogy. I loved the more comic and accessible writing of his brother, Gerald Durrell, especially My Family and Other Animals. I’ve wanted to read the elder brother’s work since I heard the Mick Thomas song about Durrell. 

It is beautifully written. So sophisticated. So expecting his reader to be equally erudite and educated. A mix of novel and poetry. 

Narrative-ly, excuse my made up word, this is a difficult read. Time is fluid. There is a circular structure of sorts. The narrator starts reflecting on his experiences in Alexandria and the people there, one being Justine, his lover, from his position on an island with a child. The novel ends with the narrator on the island. But within these two bookends, time and the order of actual events is fluid and unclear. Further, much of the novel is about character and concepts such as love, rather than page turning action. 
But what makes this novel even more difficult to read, and is conversely the thing that makes it such an amazing read, is the language. Durrell is clearly a poet and a master of words. Reading this confirmed my thought: how could I write a book when something so brilliant as this has been written. 

“Her sullen aniline beauty awoke no response in me.” [Aniline? It refers to naturally dyed leather. ]
“At last she goes softly, reluctantly, circumspectly into the lighted world with a little sigh.”

“She gazed about her like a half-trained Panther.”

“His mediocrity was his salvation.”

Goodness, there were many words I had to look up. Exigent. (Spell check doesn’t like that one. Means pressing, demanding.) Etiolated. He uses that word a bit. One I didn’t have to look up because of a book recently read: anchorite. 
Yes, a challenging but mind blowing read. 

Yep, I couldn’t compete. How can I ever write my story?


5 thoughts on “How can I ever write a book?

  1. You have me interested!

    I felt similarly about the writing in Lolita – just beautiful. (Sadly I couldn’t get past the content of Lolita so I never finished it.)

  2. Once upon a time I wanted to be a novelist but now I can’t imagine being one – I just don’t think that way any more. I would have to write non-fiction! I read Karen Joy Fowler’s book “Sarah Canary” years ago and it really stayed with me. I recommend that you and Amanda both read something else by Nabokov, such as some of his short stories – he is a gorgeous writer!

  3. I don’t like novels that get too post-modern and seem to be self-consciously trying to be too clever by far for ordinary people. But I do love poetic and lyrical language and new words, especially ones linked from other languages.

    ‘Exiger’ in French means to require/demand; exigeant is the adjective (while conversely, ‘demander’ means to ASK, not to demand.) ‘étioler’ is to become whiter/lighter in French. I try to tell my Junior High kids that expanding their vocabulary is one good reason to learn another language, but clearly they think I have too much time on my hands!

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