Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Missing in Action

   It was hoped that the literary fad of omitting dialogue quotation marks in novels would simply slip silently away into the night. Regretfully, it has not.
   The fad appears to have started with Cormac McCarthy, who became hugely successful with his novels The Road and No Country for Old Men. McCarthy has said there is no reason to blot the page up with weird little marks. (That’s a quote, incidentally). If someone can do something outside the norm and still be successful, others definitely will follow the Pied Piper.
   I've just finished reading Hologram for the King, which is a strong parable but takes some thought to figure out the messages the writer is trying to get across. Thought that is constantly interrupted by the use of a single long dash to denote the start of direct dialogue. There is nothing to show where it ends. It’s hard to figure out who is saying what, when and to whom.
   I finished Hologram and started into The Round House by Louise Erdrich, a favourite writer whose work grows stronger with each outing. Alas, Erdrich has been swept up by the fad: there are no dialogue quotation marks in the book. My mind is regularly distracted from the story while trying to figure out who has started and finished talking.
   Why make a reader work figuring out dialogue and risk distracting him or her from the story? Not using quotation marks is a silly, unnecessary technique that adds to the public perception that literature is pretentious.

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