Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The pen is mightier

Jay McInerney, chronicler of New Yorkers and their ‘Bolivian marching powder’ addictions in such 80s-tastic tomes as Bright Lights, Big City, has helpfully cleared something up: he did not wake up in bed with a dead woman.

The confusion stemmed from an interview he gave to Vogue Hommes International, where the journalist misunderstood the phrase ‘passing out’, says a wrong-footed McInerney: “It sounds like I killed somebody. My wife wasn't too pleased when we were sitting in the lobby of the Hearst building and she picked that up and read it.”

But it made me wonder, which authors could kill (not that McInerney did)? So, here’s a top ten of homicidal wordsmiths.

1. Ernest Hemingway (left): if you had come face-to-face with Papa Hemingway during one of his rum-fuelled binges, no doubt he would have reached for a handy shotgun, or an empty Captain Morgan bottle to throw.

2. Charles Dickens: the man could kill from a hundred yards with a single sentence. The interminable dullness of his prose is enough to put even a puffed-up prig like Martin Chuzzlewit’s Pecksniff out of his misery.

3. Dorothy Parker: is suicide contagious? If so, you have to stay away from the Algonquin’s greatest wit and a poet of great note: Dottie was a master of the half-arsed suicide attempt.

4. Henry James (left): he could suffocate you with one of his sub-clauses. You end up struggling against it, flailing and gasping for breath before you give in and sink slowly to the bottom of the sentence. Now it all just washes over you.

5. Patricia Cornwell: not that she would have any desire to kill you in strange and horrific ways, but if anyone knew how to, it would be Cornwell. Her Kay Scarpetta books have featured every gruesome exit you can imagine and are a CSI fan’s wet dream.

6. Charles Dickens (again): have you ever tried to get through Bleak House? Some sentences go on for weeks. And being paid by the word only promoted verbosity, prolixity and over-loquaciousness.

7. Homer (left): yes, ‘Homer’ is not a single person but the name given to an oral tradition of poets, but any tradition which can produce moments like when a warrior is hit in the head so hard that his bloody eyes fall out into the dust should definitely be avoided down a dark alley in Athens after it’s had a few drinks.

8. Alexander Pushkin: everyone knows that Pushkin, author of Eugene Onegin, died in a duel. But don’t forget, he could easily have been the killer instead, and was the challenger too. Clearly not someone who’s honour you want to impugn.

9. Michel Houellebecq: no-one has ever forecast the downfall of civilisation so often and with such astringency. If you live in Houellebecq’s world, nothing good can come of it: it’s nihilism with a twenty-first century twist.

10. Charles Dickens (once more) (left): he should have lived in the twentieth century, since TV is the perfect medium for him: you get all his great characters and intricate plots without any of his terrible writing.


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