We all remember memorable openings and closing lines of famous novels – the ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged’ and ‘After all, tomorrow is another day’ phrases that have entered the language as expressions.
Sometimes powerful quotes are lifted from the body of the narrative, and it helps if the writer is witty, such as Oscar Wilde with this observation from The Picture Of Dorian Gray – ‘Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.’
I’ve wondered how much an author laboured at coming up with something meaningful, hoping it would pass into posterity. I didn’t consciously try to compose anything pithy while writing my novels. If I did write something that reflected a character’s view of the world, it was more as a way of summing them up than meant for posterity. All the same, my beta-readers commented on several phrases that I’d used, which was encouraging.
Their praise set me to thinking that I should, perhaps, sprinkle a few pearls of wisdom into my writing – only in passing, not setting them up as some portentous pronouncement to the universe! Readers like phrases that ring true to them – I know that I do.
I had proof of this a few years ago, when I found an interesting novella in my local out-of-town discount retailer, a place that sellseverything, including remaindered books. It was a book called The Fly Truffler, written by Gustaf Sobin – an American-born writer, who lived in France, and who had more success with his poetry than prose. I was intrigued by the story, as I didn’t know that truffles could be traced by the flies that hover above where they’re growing. I’d heard of truffle hunters using pigs and dogs to find them.
The story is about an ill-advised affair between a middle-aged professor and one of his students. It’s intense and poetic reading, and I really enjoyed it.
As the discounted book was only 50p, I bought several copies to give to friends. They all picked out a couple of sentences that had struck me as being wise and expressive :
‘ Maybe it’s not a person we fall in love with so much as a distance, a depth which that particular person happens to embody. Perhaps it’s some inconsolable quality in that person, some unappeasable dimension that attracts one all the more forcibly’
It fascinated me, that we’d all noticed the same thing, and again I wondered how consciously the author had chosen his words.
Do any of you pause for thought, trying to come up with memorable phrases that might take on a life of their own? And, if you do, how about some examples…