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Tuesday, 10 February 2015

C.J. Sansom's Cover Story

For entertainment certain cheap trashy paperbacks cannot be beaten. At Davos I almost missed my keynote speech, so absorbed was I in the latest C.J. Sansom. Perhaps 'in' is not the mot juste here, suggesting, as it does, that my attention had been gripped by the words inside the book; for it was the wording on the cover which wholly occupied my mind for the two hours and thirty seven minutes by which my talk had been delayed pending the arrival of an unpunctual Barrak Obama. The words- a quote from an un-named critic at The Sunday Times- were remarkable for such a complete absence of literary sensibility that ones mind could not completely contemplate the sort of conspiracy of incompetence that must have led to their publication. The author of the words was clearly borderline illiterate. Some sub-editor at The Sunday Times had been sufficiently uncultured to allow the words to appear in the review section of that publication (the literary review section, mind you). The publisher of the book must have failed to spot the gross literary shortcomings of the words to be emblazoned on its cover. I mean... words almost fail me. I'll tell you what, here's the quote. Read it yourself, then you'll see what I mean...

'So compulsive that, until you reach the end, you'll have to be almost physically prised away from it.'

Where does one start? So much to criticise. Let's begin with punctuation. What is the purpose of the two commas? Surely the sentence (rubbish as it is) would scan more straightforwardly without them. And then, why bother with the interpolated words at all? Surely if the sentence read 'So compulsive that you'll have to be almost physically pried away from it' the reader would gather that the extreme degree of compulsiveness would probably abate once the book had been read. Or did the critic suppose that readers might be concerned that they would be inseparably attached to this supremely captivating book for ever? And then there's the 'away from'. Why include the word away? And then there's 'physically prised'. Confusion with what other common sort of prising was the literary critic taking care to avoid? Emotional prising? Spiritual prising? Immaterial prising? And the ambiguously-placed 'almost'. What is its focus? Did our literary critic mean prised in an almost physical way (presumably some specific point along the non-physical-to physical prising continuum)? Or did the critic mean physically prised almost, but not quite, to the point of being 'away from' the book? Or did the critic...

Connoisseurs of literary humour world-wide: You can see why he nearly missed his speech. He can go on for hours about this sort of stuff. Sure he's a critic's critic alright.

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