Sunday, February 03, 2008

Fifteenth Sunday Salon 17.42


Slow progress, as usual. Since reading Francine Prose I feel no compulsion to rush. I read and reread because some words, even the simplest ones, are best savoured.

After the first couple of pages I was a little worried about this book. I think I am the only person on the planet who has not taken to the fiction of McCall Smith. I'm afraid it reminded me of the adventures of Brer Rabbit, but I know I am pretty much alone in that.

However, in Mr. Pip things soon picked up enormously; some simple writing, I find, is actually very deep. The voice of an adolescent can give a unique viewpoint, especially one as earnest and searching at Matilda's. I have read a couple of teenage narrators recently but this is the voice I like the best. There is a strange knowing innocence about the voice. She lets things drop into her account with the detail she gives: her mother turns over on her mat for instance - so from that we learn that they sleep on the floor.

I particularly like the passages that describe the effect of listening to a story has on the children. No one had told 'us kids' that they could find friend in a book. 'Or that you could slip inside the skin of another.'

There are passages that made me laugh out loud; here is one of the children's mothers giving them some 'cooking tips'.
'To kill an octopus bite it above the eyes. When cooking a turtle place it shell down first.' ...'To kill a pig, get two fat uncles to place a board across its throat.'
In response to the teacher asking how big those uncles had to be she says:
'Fat ones. Fat ones is good. skinny no bloody good.'

Then, immediately after that passage, the villagers run into the jungle in panic after helicopters are heard. He describes them hiding:
'Everywhere in the shadows I saw sweating faces. We tried to blend in with the stillness of the trees. Some stood. Other crouched; those mums with little ones crouched. They stuck their teats into the mouths of their babies to shut them up.'

This is followed by a passage about an old dead dog, which is incredibly moving.

Reading this book has helped me with my own work. The other day I wrestled with the word 'ululation' - should I use this instead of 'howl with grief'? Is it really any better? Orwell would say no, I think, because everyone knows what it is to howl whereas ululation might make some people, like me a few days ago, reach for the dictionary. Reading Mr. Pip has convinced me to stick with howl.
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8 Comments:

Blogger Susangalique said...

I would have had to look for a dictionary with the other word to, but howl is a good word, and a physical word as well.

I am reading Catherine Cookson's The Girl and it is really slow going. Like a sentence or two a day! but I kind of enjoy pittling around with it and falling asleep with it dropping to the floor.

Sun Feb 03, 06:52:00 pm  
Blogger Lee said...

Ulululation, however, is precisely what people do on certain occasions in Africa - not howl! Somehow feeling awkward, I've never properly learned it myself.

Sun Feb 03, 06:55:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

Is that the sort of repetitive wailing I've seen at funerals in the townships of South Africa? If it is - can this be learnt or is it something more spontaneous - an expression of grief within a certain culture?

Sun Feb 03, 07:15:00 pm  
Anonymous Clare said...

And Susangalique - gald you'd have to use your ictionary too!

Sun Feb 03, 07:16:00 pm  
Blogger Lee said...

It's done with the tongue, often used to express joy or approval. Now that I come to think about it, I've only ever heard women ululating. I'll get back to you about this after some checking with Zimbabwean friends.

Heh-noticed I added one too many syllables to my last comment: like ululation itself, eh?

Mon Feb 04, 09:42:00 am  
Anonymous Clare. said...

My computer dictionary definition is wrong then - it says 'to express a strong emotion, typically grief.' Huh. I'm going to have to be less lazy and walk to the bookshelves and pick up one in print.

Mon Feb 04, 09:53:00 am  
Anonymous Clare said...

Just checked Chambers - no good - just howling or wailing. Wikipedia however, gives a much fuller explanation. 'An ululation is a long, wavering, high-pitched sound resembling the howl of a dog or wolf. It is an onomatopoetic word derived from Latin.

Ululation is found in some singing techniques and ritual situations. In Arab countries ululation is commonly used by women to express celebration or grief, especially at weddings and funerals.'

Which gives a quite different emphasis.

Very interesting. You're right Lee, a howl is not at all the same thing as an ululation! It would have been the wrong word in my piece. A howl was much closer.

Mon Feb 04, 10:03:00 am  
Anonymous Clare said...

Just checked Chambers - no good - just howling or wailing. Wikipedia however, gives a much fuller explanation. 'An ululation is a long, wavering, high-pitched sound resembling the howl of a dog or wolf. It is an onomatopoetic word derived from Latin.

Ululation is found in some singing techniques and ritual situations. In Arab countries ululation is commonly used by women to express celebration or grief, especially at weddings and funerals.'

Which gives a quite different emphasis.

Very interesting. You're right Lee, a howl is not at all the same thing as an ululation! It would have been the wrong word in my piece. A howl was much closer.

Mon Feb 04, 10:03:00 am  

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