Welcome to this month’s edition of Bookworm with me, Angela Pickbone. As regular listeners know, we normally invite the author of a recently published novel to discuss it. On most occasions we talk about a work that has been favourably received by the literary critics. This time we are dealing with one in the opposite category. All the pundits seem to be baffled by this book and are fiercely hostile to it. We therefore asked the writer, Terrence Torrance, to join us and offer his observations. Good afternoon, Mr Torrance.
Torrance: Hello. Please call me Terrence.
Pickbone: Thank you, Torr . . . er . . . Terrence. Now, your hundred and sixty thousand word story ‘Abstrusius’ has attracted a lot of press reaction, mostly from reviewers who have had difficulty trying to understand it.
Torrance: I don’t see why. It seems perfectly straightforward to me.
Pickbone: Well, the consensus of opinion is to the effect that your prose is so obscure that it makes James Joyce’s ‘Finnegan's Wake’, Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’ or Martin Heidegger’s ‘Sein und Zeit’ appear as clear as window panes by comparison.
Torrance: I can’t be held responsible for the inability of soi-disant literarians to follow plain English.
Pickbone: I’ll read out what some of them have said about your opus, and I should mention that their words reflect the general assessment. One observes that ‘Abstrusius’ is a triumph of opacity. Another remarks that you have reached hitherto unimagined heights of inaccessibility. Yet another notes that the word incomprehensible is barely adequate to describe your tale. Pretty strong stuff, don’t you think?
Torrance: These people are supposed to be erudite but all they are demonstrating is their ignorance of linguistic matters. Maybe they should try a different line of work.
Pickbone: Obviously you are entitled to express and defend your opinion, but I must say that I too had trouble with every passage I tried to read. When I got halfway through your first paragraph I abandoned my dictionary, thinking that it must be out of date or too limited, or maybe I was grappling with a different language.
Torrance: It’s clear enough to me and common parlance in the circles in which I usually move.
Pickbone: Which circles are they?
Torrance: Various but mostly I can be found at the Logophiles’ Club, of which I am a member. What difficulties did you encounter with the book?
Pickbone: Allow me to read a little from the beginning, so that our listeners may form their own opinion. It goes: “Though no mean deipnosophist, I absquatulated during the hors d’oeuvres, as my sole companion was a doryphore and comminatory to boot. Also, his jejune literary animadversions were adscititious to our exchanges and largely obnubilated them. Still worse, his minaceousness and gasconade indicated that he considered me a gobemouche. All this was regrettable because I am quite edacious. Felicitously, the incident was a eucatastrophe, as I repaired otherwhere by an anfractuous route to assuage my gustatory appetency in a mollicious milieu.” I will not go on.
Torrance: What’s wrong with that passage?
Pickbone: Let’s just see how a another author renders it. He writes: “Though adept at dinner-table conversation, I left hurriedly as my sole companion was an irritating and threatening critic. Also his dull literary carping was extraneous to our talk, largely obscuring it. Further, he was boastful and saw me as gullible. All this was regrettable, as I like eating. Still, good came from bad, as I took a winding route to another place and ate in luxurious surroundings.”
Torrance: And you regard that as better than my opening, do you?
Pickbone: I think so. It has fewer words, syllables and characters than yours, doesn’t require the repeated use of a thesaurus and covers the same ground.
Torrance: Madam, I am not seeking an award for breviloquence. I expect my readers to have a modicum of knowledge, but as you clearly prefer the scribbling of a hack writer, you are welcome to it.
Pickbone: Very forthright, Torr . . . er . . . Terrence. I understand that you are to produce a sequel to ‘Abstrusius’, in the same vein but longer. I can hardly wait. Perhaps we’ll invite you again when you have completed that next foray into impenetrability. However, we’re out of time now, so good luck with your further belletristic emprises and goodbye.
Torrance: Belletristic emprises, eh? Nice one. I think you’re catching on. Ta-ta.
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