Ian McEwan gets it right

Here he discusses his favorite movie adaptations of novels, and he’s right on the money with his front-runner.

I have always thought that Joyce’s novella “The Dead” contains the most beautiful prose ever penned in English. Notice how McEwan almost tears up when he discusses the ending, which is ineffably moving. I still can’t read the following without tearing up even more than McEwan:

The air of the room chilled his shoulders. He stretched himself cautiously along under the sheets and lay down beside his wife. One by one, they were all becoming shades. Better pass boldly into that other world, in the full glory of some passion, than fade and wither dismally with age. He thought of how she who lay beside him had locked in her heart for so many years that image of her lover’s eyes when he had told her that he did not wish to live.

Generous tears filled Gabriel’s eyes. He had never felt like that himself towards any woman, but he knew that such a feeling must be love. The tears gathered more thickly in his eyes and in the partial darkness he imagined he saw the form of a young man standing under a dripping tree. Other forms were near. His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hosts of the dead. He was conscious of, but could not apprehend, their wayward and flickering existence. His own identity was fading out into a grey impalpable world: the solid world itself, which these dead had one time reared and lived in, was dissolving and dwindling.

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

See the Huston movie if you can, but by all means read the story, which is free at the link above.

If you know of any better prose than that, tell me!

38 Comments

  1. Sunny
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Thank you! I did not know about the site. Now I get to spend more time not working.

  2. Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    That’s hard to beat, but F. Scott Fitzgerald occasionally comes very, very close. And as for short stories, although I’m not the biggest Hemingway fan in the world, Hills Like White Elephants brings a tear to my eye every time.

  3. M31
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Years ago I saw this movie when I was in grad school at Duke; it was a free series in the student union.

    There was this group of frat boys who were there as well, and not only had they been drinking, but for some reason they thought this movie was some kind of horror/zombie eerie thriller type of thing. You know, ‘The Dead’ and all.

    As I recall, it starts out with some dark and silent scenes of coaches arriving at an old Victorian-looking house, so it could have been the opening of a creepy psychological thriller, sure. But as it went on and on the frat boys (who actually stayed all the way to the end) got more and more confused as it turned into lots of talking at a party, with no action to speak of and certainly no brains spattering everyone.

    Then the credits came, and one of them said, ‘Oh man, is that it?’ and they stomped out.

    One of the greatest moments in my cinematic experiences.

  4. gr8hands
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    Fred Saberhagen’s Empire of the East was amazing for prose. And Stephen R. Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books. Short stories as well.

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted May 18, 2012 at 5:14 am | Permalink

      Donaldson? The Covenant books had powerful story elements, spoiled by a lot of clunky adjectives. (And the whole incoherent fantasy thing.)

    • josh
      Posted May 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      I’ve been reading his latest The Last (Final?) Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and I have to agree with John Scanlon. I read the original books when I was a teenager so I’m not sure how their language holds up, but Donaldson really becomes repetitious with some words and sometimes uses abstruse ones in a very clunky and self-conscious way. I like him for the big, epic characters and high fantasy atmosphere, but his prose leaves me rather underwhelmed now.

      Try Gene Wolfe for some really imaginative scifi/fantasy and a mind stretching vocabulary coupled with real writing skill.

  5. dwisker
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

    The first chapter of John Fowles’s “Daniel Martin” comes pretty close, an idyllic description of a wheat harvest in Devon during the summer of the Battle of Britain.

  6. Aylwyn Scally
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    Joyce was the greatest writer, a complete master of his craft, which is why he was able to go beyond other authors in exploring the underlying structure of literature itself in Ulysses. That book also has some incredible descriptive passages, such as the episode where Bloom is on the shore at Sandymount.

  7. Don
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Yes, the last lyrical, heart-breaking paragraph really is ineffably magnificent–and not only did Huston (whose daughter stars in the movie) direct that picture from his deathbed, but he, too, clearly recognized the unmatchable quality of the prose. He used Joyce’s words in voice-over.

    “The Dead,” I think, is one of the ten best short stories in English. Do others keep a list?

  8. bacopa
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I’ve lately been thinking there’s a lot more to Poe than he gets credit for.

    As far as film adaptations I have to say the The African Queen is one of the best because they changed the ending.

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Adapting great writing to the screen is extremely difficult. Beautiful language is generally the first casualty. This is especially true of novels (or other source material) told in the first person, or where the author uses avant-garde narrative techniques. Such stories are almost impossible to translate to film, at least without resorting to voice-over narration (although Martin Scorsese managed this successfully in his adaptation of Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence, using Joanne Woodward’s exceptional narration). This is the precise dilemma that Charlie Kaufman engaged, mostly by playing with his post-modern bag of tricks, in the film Adaptation.

    Paradoxically, it is often mediocre books that make the best movies, because the film-maker is free to take a decent surface story and imbue it with his or her own subtext and structure. The quintessential example has to be the first two Godfather movies, where Francis Coppola took Mario Puzo’s pretty-standard pulp mafia novel and turned it into film with resonance worthy of Moby Dick. Similarly, in Goodfellas and (the vastly underrated) Casino, Scorsese transformed perfectly workable, albeit unremarkable, non-fiction mob fare by Nicholas Pileggi into great works of art.

    Where great novels are made into excellent movies it is almost coincidental, and almost always depends on the novel having an engaging plot. For example, Milos Forman made a very good, academy-award winning movie out of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by availing himself of McMurphy’s classic three-act story arc (a three-act story almost identical in structure to the one told in Cool-Hand Luke), but in doing so completely lost the (unreliable) narration by Big Chief, the creative aspect of Ken Kesey’s novel that elevated it to greatness.

    • Chris aka Happy Cat
      Posted May 18, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

      I would add the book and film of “Picnic at Hanging Rock” to that list. Joan Lindsay wrote an intriguing but unremarkable novel. Peter Weir turned it into a flawed masterpiece that meditates on… something. It’s one of my favorite films.

  10. Mary - Canada
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    That was moving. Thanks for the link

  11. gammon
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

    There must be something wrong with me, because I can honestly say I didn’t really find that passage particularly moving. Then again, I have a track record in these sorts of things, not enjoying works of art that are generally heralded as great etc.

    I think such things are judged more subjectively than objectively anyhow, so perhaps my reading experience to date influences my opinion. I will agree with the poster above though, on Stephen Donaldson – to date he is the only person who made me physically sweat from the tension in his novels, particularly The Gap series.

    I suppose another aspect to consider would be judging the quality of the prose vs the quality of the story. It’s quite possible to write passages with superb skill but bore the reader to tears, and also to enthrall readers with the most appalling techniques.

    Ultimately I judge writers on how well they entertain me and keep me hooked without offending the English language.

    • Don
      Posted May 17, 2012 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Well, to appreciate the larger import and emotional significance of the Joyce passage–the culminating passage in a long and slowly building narrative–it really helps to have read the whole story.

  12. Brian
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps not better, but John Banville comes close. The first several paragraphs of Doctor Copernicus are simply amazing.

  13. MikeN
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    “Dubliners”, the collection of stories that contains “The Dead” also has “Ivy Day in the Committee Room”, one of the greatest stories about politics ever written.

  14. Posted May 17, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the last bit of the Huston film. The entire movie has been pulled on copyright grounds.

  15. Marie Cook
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

    Absolutely beautiful.

  16. Posted May 17, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Permalink

    It’s been a long time since I’ve read The Dead, but I distinctly remember my impression of it: it basically amounted to wondering what the fuss was all about.

    No question that the ending is beautiful and stunning, but I felt at the time that that was what really made the story so celebrated. The rest of it was dreadfully boring. Maybe my opinion has changed since then…

  17. Logicophilosophicus
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    But what does all that spiritual intensity really mean to a rational Darwinist? “His soul had approached that region where dwell the vast hordes of the dead”? How does aesthetic intensity square with utilitarian fitness? Is death not just an inevitable part of the life process?

  18. Logicophilosophicus
    Posted May 17, 2012 at 11:46 pm | Permalink

    Whoops: “vast hosts” – I lost a bit of the poetry there.

  19. stevehayes13
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 1:57 am | Permalink

    The ending of Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ where Marlow has to visit Kurtz’s intended is exquisite and profound and a brilliant summation of the whole novella:

    “He [Kurtz] wanted no more than justice—no more than justice. I rang the bell before a mahogany door on the first floor, and while I waited he seemed to stare at me out of the glassy panel—stare with that wide and immense stare embracing, condemning, loathing all the universe. I seemed to hear the whispered cry, ‘The horror! The horror!’

    “The dusk was falling. I had to wait in a lofty drawing-room with three long windows from floor to ceiling that were like three luminous and bedraped columns. The bent gilt legs and backs of the furniture shone in indistinct curves. The tall marble fireplace had a cold and monumental whiteness. A grand piano stood massively in a corner, with dark gleams on the flat surfaces like a somber and polished sarcophagus. A high door opened—closed. I rose.

    “She came forward, all in black, with a pale head, floating towards me in the dusk. She was in mourning. It was more than a year since his death, more than a year since the news came; she seemed as though she would remember and mourn for ever. She took both my hands in hers and murmured, ‘I had heard you were coming.’ I noticed she was not very young—I mean not girlish. She had a mature capacity for fidelity, for belief, for suffering. The room seemed to have grown darker, as if all the sad light of the cloudy evening had taken refuge on her forehead. This fair hair, this pale visage, this pure brow, seemed surrounded by an ashy halo from which the dark eyes looked out at me. Their glance was guileless, profound, confident, and trustful. She carried her sorrowful head as though she were proud of that sorrow, as though she would say, ‘I—I alone know how to mourn for him as he deserves. But while we were still shaking hands, such a look of awful desolation came upon her face that I perceived she was one of those creatures that are not the playthings of Time. For her he had died only yesterday. And, by Jove! the impression was so powerful that for me too he seemed to have died only yesterday—nay, this very minute. I saw her and him in the same instant of time—his death and her sorrow—I saw her sorrow in the very moment of his death. Do you understand? I saw them together—I heard them together. She had said, with a deep catch of the breath, ‘I have survived;’ while my strained ears seemed to hear distinctly, mingled with her tone of despairing regret, the summing-up whisper of his eternal condemnation. I asked myself what I was doing there, with a sensation of panic in my heart as though I had blundered into a place of cruel and absurd mysteries not fit for a human being to behold. She motioned me to a chair. We sat down. I laid the packet gently on the little table, and she put her hand over it. . . . ‘You knew him well,’ she murmured, after a moment of mourning silence.

    “‘Intimacy grows quick out there,’ I said. ‘I knew him as well as it is possible for one man to know another.’

    “‘And you admired him,’ she said. ‘It was impossible to know him and not to admire him. Was it?’

    “‘He was a remarkable man,’ I said, unsteadily. Then before the appealing fixity of her gaze, that seemed to watch for more words on my lips, I went on, ‘It was impossible not to—’

    “‘Love him,’ she finished eagerly, silencing me into an appalled dumbness. ‘How true! how true! But when you think that no one knew him so well as I! I had all his noble confidence. I knew him best.’

    “‘You knew him best,’ I repeated. And perhaps she did. But with every word spoken the room was growing darker, and only her forehead, smooth and white, remained illumined by the unextinguishable light of belief and love.

    “‘You were his friend,’ she went on. ‘His friend,’ she repeated, a little louder. ‘You must have been, if he had given you this, and sent you to me. I feel I can speak to you—and oh! I must speak. I want you—you who have heard his last words—to know I have been worthy of him. . . . It is not pride. . . . Yes! I am proud to know I understood him better than anyone on earth—he told me so himself. And since his mother died I have had no one—no one—to—to—’

    “I listened. The darkness deepened. I was not even sure whether he had given me the right bundle. I rather suspect he wanted me to take care of another batch of his papers which, after his death, I saw the manager examining under the lamp. And the girl talked, easing her pain in the certitude of my sympathy; she talked as thirsty men drink. I had heard that her engagement with Kurtz had been disapproved by her people. He wasn’t rich enough or something. And indeed I don’t know whether he had not been a pauper all his life. He had given me some reason to infer that it was his impatience of comparative poverty that drove him out there.

    “‘. . . Who was not his friend who had heard him speak once?’ she was saying. ‘He drew men towards him by what was best in them.’ She looked at me with intensity. ‘It is the gift of the great,’ she went on, and the sound of her low voice seemed to have the accompaniment of all the other sounds, full of mystery, desolation, and sorrow, I had ever heard—the ripple of the river, the soughing of the trees swayed by the wind, the murmurs of wild crowds, the faint ring of incomprehensible words cried from afar, the whisper of a voice speaking from beyond the threshold of an eternal darkness. ‘But you have heard him! You know!’ she cried.

    “‘Yes, I know,’ I said with something like despair in my heart, but bowing my head before the faith that was in her, before that great and saving illusion that shone with an unearthly glow in the darkness, in the triumphant darkness from which I could not have defended her—from which I could not even defend myself.

    “‘What a loss to me—to us!’—she corrected herself with beautiful generosity; then added in a murmur, ‘To the world.’ By the last gleams of twilight I could see the glitter of her eyes, full of tears—of tears that would not fall.

    “‘I have been very happy—very fortunate—very proud,’ she went on. ‘Too fortunate. Too happy for a little while. And now I am unhappy for—for life.’

    “She stood up; her fair hair seemed to catch all the remaining light in a glimmer of gold. I rose too.

    “‘And of all this,’ she went on, mournfully, ‘of all his promise, and of all his greatness, of his generous mind, of his noble heart, nothing remains—nothing but a memory. You and I—’

    “‘We shall always remember him,’ I said, hastily.

    “‘No!’ she cried. ‘It is impossible that all this should be lost—that such a life should be sacrificed to leave nothing—but sorrow. You know what vast plans he had. I knew of them too—I could not perhaps understand,—but others knew of them. Something must remain. His words, at least, have not died.’

    “‘His words will remain,’ I said.

    “‘And his example,’ she whispered to herself. ‘Men looked up to him,—his goodness shone in every act. His example—’

    “‘True,’ I said; ‘his example too. Yes, his example. I forgot that.’

    “‘But I do not. I cannot—I cannot believe—not yet. I cannot believe that I shall never see him again, that nobody will see him again, never, never, never.’

    “She put out her arms as if after a retreating figure, stretching them black and with clasped pale hands across the fading and narrow sheen of the window. Never see him! I saw him clearly enough then. I shall see this eloquent phantom as long as I live, and I shall see her too, a tragic and familiar Shade, resembling in this gesture another one, tragic also, and bedecked with powerless charms, stretching bare brown arms over the glitter of the infernal stream, the stream of darkness. She said suddenly very low, ‘He died as he lived.’

    “‘His end,’ said I, with dull anger stirring in me, ‘was in every way worthy of his life.’

    “‘And I was not with him,’ she murmured. My anger subsided before a feeling of infinite pity.

    “‘Everything that could be done—’ I mumbled.

    “‘Ah, but I believed in him more than anyone on earth—more than his own mother, more than—himself. He needed me! Me! I would have treasured every sigh, every word, every sign, every glance.’

    “I felt like a chill grip on my chest. ‘Don’t,’ I said, in a muffled voice.

    “‘Forgive me. I—I—have mourned so long in silence—in silence. . . . You were with him—to the last? I think of his loneliness. Nobody near to understand him as I would have understood. Perhaps no one to hear. . . .’

    “‘To the very end,’ I said, shakily. ‘I heard his very last words. . . .’
    I stopped in a fright.
    “‘Repeat them,’ she said in a heart-broken tone. ‘I want—I want—something—something—to—to live with.’

    “I was on the point of crying at her, ‘Don’t you hear them?’ The dusk was repeating them in a persistent whisper all around us, in a whisper that seemed to swell menacingly like the first whisper of a rising wind. ‘The horror! The horror!’

    “‘His last word—to live with,’ she murmured. ‘Don’t you understand I loved him—I loved him—I loved him!’

    “I pulled myself together and spoke slowly.

    “‘The last word he pronounced was—your name.’

    “I heard a light sigh, and then my heart stood still, stopped dead short by an exulting and terrible cry, by the cry of inconceivable triumph and of unspeakable pain. ‘I knew it—I was sure!’ . . . She knew. She was sure. I heard her weeping; she had hidden her face in her hands. It seemed to me that the house would collapse before I could escape, that the heavens would fall upon my head. But nothing happened. The heavens do not fall for such a trifle. Would they have fallen, I wonder, if I had rendered Kurtz that justice which was his due? Hadn’t he said he wanted only justice? But I couldn’t. I could not tell her. It would have been too dark—too dark altogether. . . .”

    Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first of the ebb,” said the Director, suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed somber under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.

  20. Dermot C
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 3:05 am | Permalink

    The last two paragraphs of The Dead were my elder brother’s eulogy to our dad at his funeral; we also had Londonderry Air (our roots), a song Hush: nothing good can stay and a reading from Shakespeare. No religious nonsense for my dad, whose life was bent and bowed and blighted by the Catholic hierarchy.

    The Dead: beautiful, indeed.

  21. Posted May 18, 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink

    Wonderful – thanks.

    Regarding good English prose, the disarmingly simple sentences of Hemingway do have a very strong effect on me – in the realm of poetry.

    Two examples:

    “In the morning there we would have breakfast and then go out to swim in the Irati at Aoiz, the water clear as light, and varying in temperature as you sunk down, cool, cold, and the shade from the trees on the bank when the sun was hot, the ripe wheat in the wind up on the other side and sloping to the mountain. There was an old castle at the head of the valley where the river came out between two rocks, and we lay naked on the short grass in the sun and later in the shade.”
    – from ‘Death in the Afternoon’

    “I undressed in one of the bath cabins, crossed the narrow line of beach and went into the water. I swam out, trying to swim through the rollers, but having to dive sometimes. Then in the quiet water I turned and floated. Floating I saw only sky, and felt the drop and lift of the swells. I swam back to the surf and coasted in, face down, on a big roller, then turned and swam, trying to keep in the trough and not have a wave break over me. It made me tired swimming in the trough, and I turned and swam out to the raft. The water was buoyant and cold. It felt as though you could never sink.”
    – from ‘The Sun Also Rises’

    In the same line I will never forget how I was suddenly ‘there’, in the sunrise in the river, when I started reading Chapter 19 of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (a book full of high moments of English prose).

    http://www.online-literature.com/twain/huckleberry_finn/19/

    “TWO or three days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely. …”

    • John Scanlon, FCD
      Posted May 18, 2012 at 5:19 am | Permalink

      Oh yes, those are writers.

  22. Don
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 4:42 am | Permalink

    What’s especially moving about the film is the tribute paid by the 84 yo Huston to the 25 yo Joyce, artist to artist, with Huston feeling free to change things around (the horse story) by way of staying true.

  23. Anthony Paul
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    I think picking great writing can be a difficult task because it so often seems to involve the particular reader’s (emotional?) connection with what is being read, i.e., it doesn’t necessarily transfer well. I’ve never had much luck trying to enjoy James Joyce. Plus, a particular passage that might stand out as a piece of writing may get lost in the impact of the whole story or novel. You can also have a great story or great characters, but no passage really stands out as writing. As I recall, and as someone else already suggested, the beginning of Fowles’ “Daniel Martin” is impressive. I tend to be sympathetic to Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories, and although I haven’t read them for a while, as I recall it was partly because they had the feel of real life to me. The opening section of Graham Greene’s “This Gun For Hire” has always struck me as exceptional writing, even though it’s supposed to be one of his “popular” novels and not “serious.” I like the ending of “To Kill a Mockingbird” where Scout walks Boo to his house.

  24. Posted May 18, 2012 at 6:29 am | Permalink

    Some of Roger Ebert’s reviews of Bergman’s films are actually almost as good as the films. There are a couple, although I have read them many times, where I know that all I have to do is read them, or even think about them, and the tears will flow.

  25. Posted May 18, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Although not fiction, Loren Eiseley’s essay, “The Bird and the Machine” (in THE IMMENSE JOURNEY) affected me strongly at age 14 and its power remains undiminished. Eiseley’s essay “The Star Thrower” has been plagiarized several times (including by xtians) but the original is much more complex and well worth reading.

  26. MAUCH
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    A legend has surrounded John Huston that he was simply a heavy drinking cutup that somehow had great films fall in his lap. No one could have had a body of work that he had created and simply have done it by accident. The man had a genius for finding the great story and visualizing it as film. Check out his film Wiseblood.

  27. Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:25 am | Permalink

    I loved Joyce’s The Dead, Conrad’s HEart of Darkness, & both affected me. Haven’t seen Huston’s film, Lindsay’s Chymical Wedding had some extradinarily powerful scenes. & I’m failry in awe of both Bancille & Fowler too. But Donaldson? Clunky, overwrites & is totally derivative.

  28. Don
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    No living writer produces more elegant and affecting prose fiction than does William Trevor, a master of syntax, color, rhythm, and voice.

  29. Musical Atheist
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    How beautiful. I love the first chapter of ‘The Mill on the Floss’ (George Eliot). The great flood and the tragic reconciliation of the protagonists are foreshadowed in every line.

  30. George Wolff
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
    As I foretold you, were all spirits and
    Are melted into air, into thin air:
    And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
    The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
    The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
    Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
    And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
    Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
    As dreams are made on, and our little life
    Is rounded with a sleep.—Sir, I am vex’d:
    Bear with my weakness; my old brain is troubled.
    The Tempest, Act IV, Sc I

  31. josh
    Posted May 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

    I’d have to go look up some good quotes, but I’m partial to Steinbeck. Like Twain, he had a way of stating things as though they were bits of profound wisdom that he had just shown you you always knew. He’s more on the Hemingway side of the spectrum than the lyrical elaborations of Joyce, but it’s like comparing Bob Dylan to King Crimson.

    Henry James isn’t as moving to me, but his sentences are like baroque works of art. So elaborate yet they still hang together somehow.

    Vonnegut is maybe the only writer than can make you laugh and cry at the same time.

    Nabokov is great.

    And then there’s the genre of comedy which gets unfairly excluded from these discussions. Douglas Adams and P.G. Wodehouse are masters of prose, but in a completely different vain from ‘serious’ writers.

    • josh
      Posted May 18, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Permalink

      vain -> vein

  32. chebghobbi
    Posted May 19, 2012 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    My personal favourite passage is from Kerouac’s Big Sur:

    “Oh the ups and downs of juggling women, blondes and all that… I am alone on a magic carpet with one of em, whee, at first of course it’s a great ball, a great new eye-shattering explosion of experience—— Not dreaming, I , what’s to come—— For with sad musical Billie in my arms and my name Billie too now, Billie and Billie arm in arm, oh beautiful, and Cody has given his consent in a way, we go roaming the Genghiz Khan clouds of soft love and hope and anybody who’s never done this is crazy—— Because a new love affair always gives hope, the irrational mortal loneliness is always crowned, that thing I saw (that horror of snake emptiness ) when I took the deep iodine deathbreath on the Big Sur beach is now justified and hosannah’d and raised up like a sacred urn to Heaven in the mere fact of the taking off of clothes and clashing wits and bodies in the inexpressibly nervously sad delight of love —— Dont let no old fogies tell you otherwise, and on top of that nobody in the world even ever dares to write the true story of love, it’s awful, we’re stuck with a 50% incomplete literature and drama—— Lying mouth to mouth, kiss to kiss in the pillow dark, loin to loin in unbelievable surrendering sweetness so distant from all our mental fearful abstractions it makes you wonder why men have termed God antisexual somehow—- The secret underground truth of mad desire hiding under fenders under buried junkyards throughout the world, never mentioned in newspapers, written about haltingly and like corn by authors and painted tongue in cheek by artist, agh, just listen to Tristin and Isolde by Wagner and think of him in a Bavarian field with his beloved naked beauty under the fall leaves.”


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