24 Aug 2013

The Hippopotamus

The Hippopatamus, Stephen Fry

Consciously but involuntarily, when I read, I always observe if the author has a tic. If he does, I have trouble reading any further work; if he doesn't, I keep going.

I'll give you an example of one who failed. In Rutherford's London, he uses an interrogative as a particularly romantic qualitative, just way, way too often: "How lovely the bridge's arches," "What fragrance wafted from the fields," "How brazenly bulged his muscles under the tanned skin." It sounds Ok at first, but after 800 pages, I no longer see the text; I see the tic.

It can be anything. A word, or a particularly over-dramatic way of ending each chapter. I hope I always start with the benefit of the doubt, but once I notice it, I can't ... well, the author gets in my face. I can't suspend disbelief. And if you can't do that, why read?

In Fry, I haven't seen it yet, but I am beginning to see a hint of it. It's really hard to pin down, but the tic I am beginning to see is a sort of childishness. I'm not going to try to analyze it.

I'm not going to try to analyze it because I don't want to ruin it for myself. His books are immensely fun, simple ideas developed in astonishingly complex directions, and I would hate the discovery of an irritating habit to destroy everything.