I read novels written in a variety of prose styles, spare like Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses, simple yet indefinably beautiful like Jhumpa Lahiri’s short stories, or rich and complex like Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Sometimes I think it would be a fun exercise to rewrite say, a Bronte novel, in the style of James Patterson. A totally fruitless exercise, but an interesting one nonetheless.
Mostly though, I long for poetic prose where the writer has taken care with the language, as if each page were a poem. I’m reading Eve Green right now by British author Susan Fletcher and she offers up some beautiful lines, packing them with generous details. Of one character she writes, “She wore a dark-red knitted cardigan with buttons that looked like boiled sweets, and she smelt of washing machines.” A couple of perfect details and I already like the character.
She describes her main character while still in the womb—a feat. “I’d been brought to Birmingham before I was born, before my mother knew if I was going to be a boy or a girl. She said she’d sit in the bath and watch my elbows poke up under her belly like chicken wings. We didn’t live near the chocolate factory, but sometimes I was sure I could smell the cocoa beans and cream.” The visual is memorable and the aroma of chocolate a sweet sensory detail.
If I had to pick, I’d say I care less about the plot and more about the elegance of the writing. Today’s literary market is flooded with plot-driven novels, which have their place for entertainment, but a more enjoyable read satisfies by achieving both a good plot and beautiful writing.