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Our Crack Tongue & Groove

editpic.jpg The dying art of editing

Several recently published novels have been a hit with both critics and public alike, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re well written. What on earth has happened to all the good editors?

‘Blood Orange’, a novel by Harriet Tyce, has been billed as ‘the most heart-pounding thriller of 2019’. Although I thought it was rather humdrum, and populated with uninteresting characters doing uninteresting things, it was well received by critics, and the public seemed to like it too. What do I know? But none of the reviews I read picked up on its appalling sentence construction. Take this clanger. The scene: a barrister is having a drink in a bar after work. Someone drops a glass and she is startled: “I spill the red wine in my glass all down my shirt instead of drinking it.” It’s a sentence that contains only sixteen words but it still manages to be both unwieldy and overstuffed with superfluous information. “I spill the red wine in my glass…” Were the words in (my) italics included just in case readers were under the impression that the woman was lapping at Rioja from her own cupped hands? And then there is this: “I spill the red wine in my glass all down my shirt instead of drinking it.” As opposed to what? Instead of pretending it was holy water and throwing it around the bar in religious fervour? Instead of gargling the national anthem with it? If the author had simply written: “I spill red wine down my shirt”, then she would have covered the same ground in half the space.

‘Blood Orange’ is a debut novel, but I’ve noticed similarly sloppy work cropping up everywhere recently, not least in the latest book from the Booker-nominated Linda Grant. Entitled ‘A Stranger City’ it has also had plenty of back slapping reviews, but it was rendered all but unreadable for me by sentences such as this: “Oh, snap out of it, you silly bitch, she told herself, not aloud but thinking it so intently on her face that the old dog man, locking up, believed that he could actually see someone in the process of changing from one thing to another and it was an interesting sight and she was interesting, or at least it was to him, who had the resignation of the shopkeeper who stands and waits.” I wouldn’t even know where to begin with slaying that particular monster.

The novel also contains a litany of schoolgirl errors such as referring to “women” as “woman”, mistakes that should have been picked up. I fear the amount of time editors are spending with novels has significantly decreased in recent years, due to money constraints, but the work they do should never be marginalised. Not if we want our novels to read well and make some kind of sense.