Sunday, December 23, 2007

A question for readers---

Alicia said:

Who has read Cold Mountain?

What did you think of the lack of quote marks? (I'd forgotten, having apparently slept through my class on Joyce, that Ulysses also used dashes instead of quote marks.)

Here's an example:

The Tennessee boy had peered up at the star so indicated and said, How do you know its name is Rigel?
--I read it in a book, Inman said.
--Then that's just a name we give it, the boy said. It ain't God's name.
Inman had thought on the issue a minute and then said, How would you ever come to know God's name for that star?
--You wouldn't, He holds it close, the boy said. It's a thing you'll never know. It's a lesson that sometimes we're meant to settle for ignorance.

Tell me what you felt when you first read that book-- what the lack of quote marks FELT like.



Anonymous said...

If the tags were missing too, it would feel like I was reading in French or Spanish, where many of the novels I have read have dashes to indicate dialogue.
And if I don't keep track of who spoke first, I can get lost fast (especially since those are not my first languages!).

Not something English speakers, at least here in the US, would be used to. Odd.

As to how it feels to read it in English like that, with no quotation marks, it almost feels like I am reading a dreamy, frothy, not-quite-real scene. A recollection, rather than action that is happening in the book.

Edittorrent said...

I wonder if readers "hear" what's in quote marks differently? And without quote marks, they're not hearing it that way?


Anonymous said...

I think you're right- if someone were to read this page to me, without me seeing it, I'd definitely get a different vibe from it than I would SEEING it and reading it myself, and seeing there are no quote marks.

I think though, that European readers might not see the big deal with the missing quote marks. Maybe that's one of those little things that differentiate how a work is received by audiences on opposite sides of the pond.

Hopefully, one or two will chime in and either tell me I'm right, or tell me I'm insane; )

Anonymous said...

Have a look at Cloud Street by Tim Winton, an award winning Australian author. No dashes or quote marks, just the occassional dialogue tag to show there is someone speaking.

When I started reading it, I was really put off by the approach. But after a while I got used to it. I have no idea why he did it, what his intent was, if any. I did enjoy the story once I figured out 'how' to read it.


Carolyn Crane said...

I haven't read Cold Mountain, but I've seen this dialogue style and other variations. It feels more interior to me when it's put like this, maybe softer somehow. Closer to thought. I don't really like it. But in a deliberately quiet book, maybe.

But I LOVE your blog. I just discovered it and read everything. I am especially fond of the paragraphing for dialogue discussion. it's something I've been going back and forth about lately.

Edittorrent said...

I got used to Cold Mountain as I read it. That's not exactly high praise. Maybe I'm just a spoiled American from the tv generation, but I like quotation marks around dialogue. ;)

Jan, someone else recently recommended Tim Winton to me. He's the Australian author who manages to be both funny and literary, yes?


Anonymous said...

Maybe I'm just lazy, but with all the good books I haven't read that use quotes, I doubt I'd give one that doesn't use them a second look. But then, I didn't care for Joyce, either. ;-)

Just discovered this blog and it's a *blast*! Okay, so I'm cringing over my own work now, but that's a good thing, right? At least as long as I go back and slap it into better shape. :-)

Thank you! I'll be keeping my eyes on this one (or would that be "keeping my gaze"? :-).


Anonymous said...

I think I have an "inner ear" that "hear" what I read, and when I read dialogue without quote marks, I hear it as sort of deadpan, without the lilt I get when I see quotes in quote marks.

I think when we use such typographical innovations, we do have to think about what the reader will get out of it. The most experienced readers have learned to get meaning from everything in a passage, and so if you change one of the standard markers, you're going to get perhaps unexpected results. I'm not sure the effect on Cold Mountain justified the change, but then, if it hadn't been seen as "groundbreaking" in that way, it probably wouldn't have been considered such a great book. :)

(I grew up near there, and was kind of offended by the notion that that area was composed of either total passive sorts who let their families be brutalized, or brutal types who got away with brutalizing their neighbors-- neither of these portrayals seemed to show much understandings about how communities actually WORK, but I did get a strong sense that the author was bullied a lot in middle school.)


Anonymous said...


Winton is definitely literary, at least the one book of his that I've read. I understand that he writes about his particular area of the country, around Perth.

There are humourous aspects to Cloud Street, but I wouldn't call it 'funny' as in a comic novel. The characters and their situations are unusual to say the least. This story is about two families that live in a house that's been 'divided'. The owners of the house have no money, just the house. The people who move in are not in the same 'class'. So the story is about how these people co-exist.

It is a good read, and the adjustment to the style wasn't all that difficult.

Winton is worth looking at. I'd put him in a group with Annie Proux.


cranberry said...

The 'voice' is distant, as if you were hearing a story from someone else at a bar, instead of actually 'hearing' the characters individual voices.

I've seen that style in Spanish and French, but since Spanish is such a 'noisy' language, it works. English tends not to be so 'loud', hence me liking my quotation marks.

Anonymous said...

@Alicia: That definitely happened to me. It took me forever to get used to the lack of quotation marks. When I started out, the "movie" that plays in my head wouldn't make the characters' mouths move. It was actually kind of funny. Even when their mouths started moving, it wasn't in sync.

@Catherine Berlin: I totally get what you're saying about the dreamy feeling. That is exactly the way I felt, even the words I used to describe it to someone. It was like the scene just wasn't quite real.