|Walking Into The Ocean|
ECW, Toronto, 2012
Not long ago up popped one of those emails I found very hard to resist - Shelf-monkey suggesting that I could get a free book, providing I reviewed it.
I eat books for breakfast, lunch, dinner, midnight snacks; I write; I am so enthralled with The Word that it engenders strange looks when I toss around an oddity, its etymology, its uses and misuses, with obvious pleasure. With the outsourcing of copy editing, even at such newspapers as the Sob and Wail (as the late, great Richard Needham used to call it,) I find great joy in all the faux pas that come from a developmental lack of understanding of the language. No native English-speaking copy editor would ever confuse wailed and whaled - assuming that this were to appear on such august pages. Entire websites are devoted to unintentional hilarity of this type.
But to review the book.
It is a founderous bog, indeed, reminds my nearest and dearest of a flounder in a fog, what with the flailing and efforts to restate, in more obscure language, such obvious phrases as "he said". Lesson One in my journalistic education was this: "s/he said
. S/he didn't state
, and so forth, s/he was talking
to you, or the audience, and s/he said
." (Unless, of course, like a mad dictator, s/he screamed
So let it be clear from the start that Walking Into The Ocean, a first book by former lawyer and bureaucrat David Whellams, suffers from the modern curse of the first-timer. Which is the attempt to appear not just polished and professional but also literary, what with the emphasis of every grant-giving organization and many, many agents on this charcateristic. Badly, one might add. Keep this in mind. Either one has a literary bent or one does not. Either one is an intellectual or not. The way in which one thinks is an echo of one's very nature. Adding literary bons mots to an essentially non-literary, popular (lawdy! say it ain't so!!!
) work is like grafting a (possibly very ugly) orchid onto a fat cactus.
Such eyesore additions invariably jut out, causing one to stumble over their blatant dissonance. Yes, it's entirely possible to be reading along, just surrendering oneself to the rhythms and flow of the story, when a misplaced word smacks one in the eye like a flounder.
Examples, you say?
Referring to the central character, semi-retired Scotland Yard inspector Peter Cammon, the author mentions his "ineluctable
Mr Whellams! in this instance, as in so many others where you flee to the more complicated bit of language, thereby cluttering up your story, the word is wrongly used - and in a number of instances, while not incorrectly used, just plain badly so. I won't go into an English lesson with you, but please refrain, in your next volume (yes, a second volume is apparently in the works) from ineluctable
age, modus terminus
, doing a three-point back-up
(surely you just meant backing up?), scrooching
sea. It's redundant to cite someone's drawing an arc with his pointed
index finger - this digit is known instinctively even to preschoolers as pointer; we do get the point. My roof may be unretractable
but any decisions I make are more likely to be irrevocable
. Many happy hours have I spent reading dictionaries and encyclopedias and such; I am not going to give any lessons now. Tides, in my estimation, don't move in by detectable
inches nor is one served well by a febrile
mind. Most of all, let's try to stay away from the founderous bog
, because as surely as the sun does set, the bog will be founderous without its requiring you to describe it thus. Even people who have not had their leg stuck up to the calf in a boggier-than-usual section of that landscape have a good ida of what constitutes bogginess.
Recoil in impressed disbelief
lately, anyone? At times it is painful reading, because one knows that, if the author had just stuck to plain and straightforward language, we'd be tearing through the book, not spluttering or bursting out in laughter every few pages. Not just the attempts to be literary, but the cliches mixed with redundancies (overweight whey-faced person smiling broadly
) but illogical lapses, such as when a strangely-shaped older lady speaks in incomprehensible, faux-formal English "that is accurate
" and asks, soon thereafter, "Will you be executing a search warrant?
" What a howler!
Only older Anglo types who have spent time in the U.K. or have been pickled in BBC dramas will recognize a Peeler
as a now-archic reference to a bobby, i.e. a police officer; and surely he could have done better than to stick the unfortunate overweight cop with the name Ronald Hamm
. And venial
sin has meaning only to Roman Catholics, perp
is probably not in the mind of a semi-formal, semi-retired British police officer except in a jocular or satiric manner.
As for rekiltering
the furniture, that is just bizarre - is it being returned to a normal, non-eccentric, reasonable state? English is a strange language at times in that it does not necessarily follow apparently straightforward rules: there was a fight in the house, the furniture is all off-kilter (upended, perhaps?) and a detective has left the disorder by not righting the chairs and such. And no, it doesn't mean putting one's kilt back on, either. I'm still wondering about the nature of a Teutonic
mustache. . . does it have an accent?
This is extreme nitpicking, to be sure, but it is justified. A murder mystery, particularly, has to keep the reader engaged, eagerly so, with bits of carrot dangling ahead, and the occasional swat on the backside when one's mind is refusing to process the clews.
So going over to pompous, or archaic, or out-and-out "obscure" language is not just unnecessary but works against you as author in the very worst way.
This is a trap into which many a first-time writer has fallen. Not that Whellams has no writing experience - but it has been mostly with the Criminal Code, and the law. Don't tell me that either of those is written in clear and unambiguous language. Whellams's problem is that he has buried his story in so much unnecessary verbiage that he appears to overlook structural deficiencies. The plot deals with an apparent murder-suicide that is being investigated against the background of a serial killer apparently operating in the area. These two stories have very different requirements of plot and development, and it grates. Readers of such mysteries want the opportunity to test their acumen against the clews provided by the writer; Walking Into The Ocean doesn't provide enough, soon enough. Suddenly we are near the end and >slap!
< there's the serial killer.
Sad to say I found myself setting down this founderous bog far too often. Whellams should spend some money on a good, sharp, critical editor who can give him much-needed constructive criticisms. In all his lawyerin' and Codin' years he must have picked up much that he can use in storyin' and plottin'. In a plain lingo-sort of way.
But wait, you say. He's a published author. Surely he can't be all that bad.
Well he is not all that
bad, but he is not yet all that good, either, and that has no relation to whether one is published or not. Publishers will publish what they think will sell. The track record of any publisher takes a beating whenever one examines the remainder bins, last resort of the failed work of hundreds. It doesn't even necessarily mean that the work itself was bad, just that it failed to ignite. But a murder mystery must
ignite. It has to get to a point where the reader suddenly feels >yowsa!!!
< as if s/he's been set onto a barbecue. The blood must flow more quickly as the pulse rrrrraces! The pages must be singed by the eagerness of the fingers turning the pages to find out what happened!!!!?!?!?!?!?!
Walking Into The Ocean
suffers from hyperpaginaemia
- too many pages. There's too much unnecessary plot, too much redundancy and other crime against language, and on top of it all the central character has failed to engage the imagination.
Yes, the book has won an award which I can't locate just now, yes, the author has a second book published by ECW Press but no, it won't be called The Flounder in The Fog
. Despite that, its disjointed literary aspirations swamp the work, the balance of the two storylines is definitely in need of serious, tho please, not febrile
, rekiltering. And I am feeling as though I very nearly remained trapped in the founderous bog of its muddle.
Please, Mr Whellams, be cool. Remember Sam Clemens. You aren't Virginia Woolf, or any sort of literary lion cub. Focus on the story, economically - but pointedly - told. And try to forget anything bureaucratic or jargonesque that you may have experienced in Ottawa - for which you have my deepest sympathy.
(c)2013 Daisy Morant
Labels: Canadian fiction, David Whellams, ECW Press, murder mystery, Walking Into The Ocean