The night has come and1 she has not heard the knocking, standing2 at the window looking out onto the garden. How the dark gathers3 without sound the cherry trees. It gathers the last of the leaves and4 the leaves do not resist the dark but accept the dark in whisper5. Tired now, the day almost behind her, all that still has to be done before bed and the children settled in the living room, this feeling of rest for a moment by the glass.6 Watching the darkening garden and the wish7 to be at one with this darkness, to step outside and lie down with it, to lie with the fallen leaves and let the night pass over, to wake then with the dawn and rise renewed with the morning come.8
(First few lines fron Prophet Song by Paul Lynch, my footnotes.)
This opening promises either a pretentious or a poetic book, but either way it’s not for those who like regular sentences. Whether its apparent imitation of bits of Cormac McCarthy is by design or not would also be interesting to find out, in case someone has the time to study both authors in more detail. Here’s my notes:
1 “and”: Does this “and” sound a bit like the “andelope” and that Myers’s A Reader’s Manifesto (the chapter “Muscular Prose”) discusses as a flaw of Cormac McCarthy’s style? You know, the and that makes things sound literary that are actually banal? (I’ve enjoyed McCarthy immensely, but this example is hilarious: “He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her”, from The Crossing, qu. Myers, p. 45.)
Our opening sentence here is an admittedly milder case of andelope. If you substitute the “and” for a full stop, you get something like this: “The night has come. She has not heard the knocking, standing at the window looking out onto the garden.” Which indeed produces a first sentence just inches away from ridiculous (I’m almost hearing dark and stormy). Therefor it’s not impossible to assume that one of the functions of the “and” here may indeed be to conceal a cliché by urging us to read on, and not think about it.
2 “knocking, standing”: If you listened to this without seeing the words on the page and assumed, if only for a moment, that “standing” referred to “the knocking” rather than to “she”, I wouldn’t blame you. One could avoid any possible confusion, of course, though it would sound different: “Standing at the window and looking out onto the garden, she has not heard the knocking.”
3 Is it a bold move to have “the dark” “gather” “trees” in your second sentence? Bold because “the dark” usually doesn’t “gather” things, and “trees” aren’t usually being “gathered” either. Perhaps “gather” here means, by way of pluck and put into a basket, something like make invisible? Why not say it like that though? Either way, we are now invited to deal with a first person narrator who is seeing things in their own peculiar way.
4 Same literary, concealing, slightly pretentious “and” here? A different version, which substitutes the “and”, and which also omits the apparently needless repetition – another flaw of McCarthy’s style, according to A Reader’s Manifesto (p.45) – may sound like this: “It gathers the last of the leaves. They do not resist the dark but accept the dark in whisper.” Hmm: Better or worse, and why?
5 Are the phrases “resist the dark” and “accept the dark in whisper” a bit ridiculous? They remind me of something, maybe a pop song from the eigthies?
6 “Tired now, the day almost behind her, all that still has to be done before bed and the children settled in the living room, this feeling of rest for a moment by the glass.” This sentence appears to feature four or five possible subjects (“The day”, “all”, “the children”, “this feeling” plus an implied “She” in the beinning) but no predicates. This obvious rejection of regular syntax may represent personal, somewhat unfiltered thought and therefore doesn’t need to follow rules. It may of course also be a sign of an author’s conviction that they don’t need to make clear who or what exactly does what exactly because there’s always a reader to connect the dots. So what happens if I do the work and supply the implied nouns and verbs? This: “She is tired now. The day is almost behind her. All that still has to be done before bed comes to mind. The children, settled in the living room, are asleep. She enjoys this feeling of rest for a moment by the glass.” If this suddenly sounds like a tiresome evening in any parent’s life ever, it’s not really the fault of the additional words and the periods I put in, I would say.
7 “Watching the darkening garden and the wish to be at one with this darkness”: Again, the word order suggests, at least to my brain, a reference that probably isn’t the intended one: I can’t help but hear that someone is watching a wish – absurd perhaps, but I tend to connect words on formal properties first, and if you give me two nouns (like “garden” and “wish”) next to each other and put and in between, I’ll try to read them as connected. If, as a writer, you wanted to make sure that “watching” and “the wish” are understood as two nouns on the same level, why not say something like “Watching the darkening garden and wishing to be at one with this darkness”? Or “She watched the darkening garden, whishing she could be at one with this darkness”?
8 “to wake then with the dawn and rise renewed with the morning come”. This weird sounding phrase may be a clever reference to something archaic I don’t know, but it also looks suspiciously like the pseudo-biblical style that A Reader’s Manifesto points out as a third flaw of McCarthy’s (p.46).
|First few lines read from:||Paul Lynch, Prophet Song (Oneworld)|
|Found on this list:||Booker Prize 2023 (Longlist)|
|Times watched the dark gather trees outside since reading this:||1|