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Subjective Style: Good or Bad?

“The bathroom door was open and the light was on, and as Haroun watched he saw, silhouetted in the open doorway, a figure almost too astonishing for words.

It had an outsize onion for a head and outsize aubergines for legs, and it was holding a toolbox in one hand and what looked like a monkey wrench in the other. A burglar!

Haroun tiptoed towards the bathroom. The being inside was talking non-stop in a mumbling, grumbling way. ‘Put it in, take it out. The fellow comes up here, so I have to come and install it, rush job, never mind my workload. -Then, wham, bam, he cancels his subscription, and guess who has to come back and take the equipment out, right away, pronto, you’d think there was a fire…'” (Rushdie, 54-55).

This excerpt from Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories hopefully demonstrates the mastery with words that Rushdie portrays in this novel. This entire book is the tale of language itself- how stories are formed, the creatures that can harness them, control them, and perhaps destroy them. I admire this style of writing because he seems to make the most of simple words, delicately balancing our assumptions with nonsense, and the mundane with the fantastical. The awestruck tone is easy to pick up on, the dialogue always with a believable cadence, and the unique plotline ties it all together. I really appreciate the way that pacing is used- as seen as we move from drowsy confusion of Haroun to the rushed frustrated babbling of the Water Genie.

My taste in style is always that it must appear genuine. In Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a book aimed for children and adults alike, the style plays with language as well as mood, but never sacrificing one for the other. In other works, I do not enjoy when a style feels forced, as if that is how the author thinks they should write or has been conditioned to write.

“Andi wanted to show Ahmad the satin clothes hangers I’d gotten her (her choice), but he wasn’t in his room, and he wasn’t in the kitchen. Which meant he was in his studio, where he painted when he wasn’t teaching undergraduates about Depression Economics and the Economics of Change: fantasies that combined Indian gods, images iconic of the materialist West, and the Italian forms we grew up with- a haloed Ganesh squatting behind bars at the zoo, Ahmad a donor in robes, kneeling before him. It was the one place neither Andi nor I could ever, ever go. I joked that Ahmad could keep the blue beards of his conquests there, if only his conquests were old enough to have beards, ha ha” (Cantor, 6).

This paragraph from Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor both bored and annoyed me. I found the use of parentheses unnecessary and trite, the strange almost haphazard allusions confusing and overly cerebral, and the sexual joke pandering. This is a book that I could not even get through because Cantor formed what is yes, an academic novel, one focusing on the skill of translation and the media of literature, but it is too self aware as academic, egging us on to respect a protagonist who is selfish and forgettable. The entire story vaguely mirrors Dante, but it seems that this connection was not for the sake of bettering the structure, but rather to give this otherwise rambling storyline anything resembling a structure at all. In the above paragraph Cantor shifts awkwardly between the prosaic and the romantic and it is generally unenthusing and ineffective style.

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