Thursday, August 30, 2012

this letter to Norman Court - Pablo D'Stair

First of all, let me say that this: excellent novella, really stylish and enjoyable writing, a really good little crime story that shows exactly why I like the novella form.

Now, today I read this interview with Laszlo Krasznahorkai, in which he talks about why, as a writer, he doesn't like full stops, insisting that they are false, a constructed literary custom, entirely artificial, and that "the readers in the last few thousand years have learned that a short sentence is easier to understand, this is also a custom, but if you think, you almost never use short sentences, if you listen..."

This reminded me of a this letter to... because to some extent this is also how Mr D'Stair writes, with sentences, thoughts and ideas that flow seamlessly, one to another, in and out of their surroundings:

"I wondered how long she'd wondered about it, wondered why hadn't Norman got back to her about this or that, how long she'd wanted to but never did ask him out loud- I wondered how many moods Herman'd had she'd interpreted as his knowing, grappling, forgiving, changing his mind and I wondered maybe it was this letter winding up gone had got the creeps in her, led her to end it off with Lawrence if that's how it'd gone or let him end it out with her, whichever."

See what I mean? It flows.

Now I get the idea, this isn't quite stream-of-consciousness but it's well on the way, with the idea being that this more accurately reflects the mental process, that one thought blends into the next half-formed, or half-finished or only half-begun. That this is more naturalistic.

But is it?

I confess I haven't read any of Krasznahorkai's work but I have seen the film Werckmeister Harmonies, based on his novel The Melancholy of Resistance. To me it was a film full of full stops. Something is presented and we are given ample time to consider it's (lack of) meaning before anything else happens. One of those bleak, cold Eastern European films where you can imagine a screenplay that reads:

"The stranger is covered in mud. 
The villagers stare at the stranger.
They stare at him for a long time.
The washerwoman whispers something unintelligible to the potter."

And that would be a full five minutes of action. (I exaggerate, but not by much. Excellent film, by the way.)

So is this a fault in my interpretation of the film, or the director's interpretation of the book? How is my experience of the work so different from the author's ideas (acknowledging that this novel was written decades before the interview and his style may have simply changed)? Do I just think differently from Krasznahorkai and D'Stair?

As a further consideration, I would certainly class this letter to... as noir, in mood. It has that air about it, the doomed protagonist, the mistakes we see him making, the greed and opportunism and fatalism of his actions. But to me classic noir is full of short sentences:

"When we came to a vacant lot I threw out the rope. About a mile further on I threw out the handle. Going by a curb drain I shot the glasses into it. Then I happened to look down and saw her shoes. They were scarred from the tracks ballast.
'What did you carry him for? Why didn't you let me-'
'Where were you? Where were you?'
'I was there. I was waiting-'
'Did I know that? Could I just sit there, with that in the car?'" 
                -Double Indemnity, James M Cain

So (classic) noir is full of full stops that never really stop anything, and questions that are never really answered. And it seems to me that I often think that way, and I certainly think that way about writing. Sure, I use lots of long sentences. But mostly they don't flow, they staccato. But isn't a full stop that doesn't really stop anything just a disguised comma? Well, no, I don't think so. I like that a full stop is definite. This is an idea. Just one. On it's own. Even if the stop is a lie. A comma is never definite. Are thoughts definite and defined as they form in our minds? Well, sometimes, and sometimes not. But actions are often definite, like 'When we came to a vacant lot I threw out the rope.' That is a whole, single item that doesn't blend into anything. The rope is gone, finished. And couldn't all those run on sentences be separated, cut off from each other by application of stops? Well, yes. But it really wouldn't be the same thing at all, and I quite like D'Stair's style just as it is, thank you. The blending of thoughts and actions gives a wholly different texture to the work. Is the style just a literary conceit? Well, aren't full stops just that anyway, according to Krasznahorkai?

Perhaps it just comes down to how much the writer wants to define what happens as opposed to what it is that this person thinks happens, and perhaps those two ideas really aren't very close at all. The actual events may be the same, but the author's intent could be very, very different. Perhaps it comes down to how deeply embedded we are in the protagonists head.

this letter to Norman Court: excellent, stylish, perfectly formed. Accessible to flow thinkers and staccatists alike.


  1. Hey mate, great piece here (not just because it's partly about my little novella). An absolute pleasure to come across this. I hadn't heard of Krasznahorkai, I'm ashamed to say, but will have to look into that stuff. Really cool take on things and very well put, all of it.



  2. Thanks for stopping in, Pablo.

    Actually, I never heard of Krasznahorkai before. I didn't even realise that Werckmeister Harmonies was based on a novel, but I'd be interested to read it now that I know. He certainly gave an interesting interview.