So, I’m re-reading The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and I was struck by how very evocative her use of language is. Even in just the early chapters of the book, you get a sense that this is not the way it was, this is new, and even the women who supported it did not expect how it would effect everyone, not just ‘those’ women. Her use of color and texture in contrast, and her depiction of anxiety and unsureness, of dread and knowing that eventually it was going to be your turn on the block no matter how well you followed the rules.
I enjoy a good ‘candy’ read as much as the next person, but sometimes I enjoy reading someone who truly loves language and wielding it like a paintbrush or the chisel of a sculptor. I have several authors I love specifically for their use of language.
Cecilia Dart Thornton who wrote The Ill-Made Mute and following books in the Bitterbynde Trilogy uses language like a Victorian author who assumes that you will have no frame of reference for the things she talks about, and spends loving paragraphs describing the world, flora and fauna, of her imagination.
Chet Raymo, who is better known for his books on Astronomy, wrote a novel called The Dork of Cork. He also wields language exactly and evocatively. At one point he describes a dusk sky as the exact color of milky tea, and you can see it. His descriptions of the main character, are also so detailed you can picture him.
Tanith Lee’s later works, post Vazkor Son of Vazkor and Drinking Sapphire Wine, more in her Lords of the Flat Earth period forward, used a lot of excellent descriptions and depictions of her otherworldly deities, and their capriciousness. Even in her earlier, shorter novels, you get flashes of this language, and her short stories.
I have always had a love affair with language. It’s kind of my downfall in my own fiction, where I can’t seem to ever be satisfied with what I’ve done, no matter how much I polish it. I’m trying to get over that. And I know a lot of what I’ve written here probably sounds pretentious as hell, but it’s really not. I get the same thrill from well-written pop songs, or movies, with language that is period and location appropriate.
I like well-turned phrases and ingenious uses of words. I like writers who understand the rules they’re breaking when they write as they do. And maybe that is a little pretentious, but the books that stick with me tend to be the ones written by people who really get language.
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