The Most Excellent Historie of the Merchant of Venice by William Shakespeare (1600)

Your favourite bit, aside from But love is blind, and lovers cannot see and All that glisters is not gold?

Mine’s got to be, apart from Portia’s acidic I’d rather be married to a death’s head with a bone in his mouth, Gratiano’s Let me play the fool: with mirth and laughter let old wrinkles come.

But hark, I sense a need for one more touch.

Pause on these soft lovers that show us much.

To the grove, let us the lovers behold!

Okay, okay, I’ll keep practicing.

[Lorenzo:] The moon shines bright: – in such a night as this,

When the sweet wind did gently kiss the trees,

And they did make no noise, – in such a night,

Troilus, methinks, mounted the Trojan walls,

And sighed his soul toward the Grecian tents,

Where Cressid laid that night.

[Jessica:] In such a night,

Did Thisbe fearfully o’ertrip the dew,

And saw the lion’s shadow ere himself,

And ran dismay’d away.

[Lor.:] In such a night,

Stood Dido, with a willow in her hand,

Upon the wild sea-banks, and waft her love

To come again to Carthage.

[Jes.:] In such a night,

Medea gather’d the enchanted herbs

That did renew old Aeson.

[Lor.:] In such a night,

Did Jessica steal from the wealthy Jew,

And with an unthrift love did run from Venice,

As far as Belmont.

[Jes.:] In such a night,

Did young Lorenzo swear he lov’d her well;

Stealing her soul with many vows of faith,

And ne’er a true one.

[Lor.:] In such a night did pretty Jessica, like a little shrew,

Slander her love, and he forgave it her.

[Jes.] I would out-night you, did no body come;

But, hark, I hear the footing of a man.

Clomp, clomp, clomp. And so on.

Isn’t it lovely?

Perhaps too much on the sighing and wafting, though.

The latter reminds me of Pocahontas’s smell the colour of my wind or whatever it was in that Disney movie.

Hey, ho, gotta go.

Before I foot in big mouth do put in.

Thanks for being here.

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A Drink with Shane MacGowan by Victoria Mary Clarke and Shane MacGowan (2001)

I’ve always had Shane down as simply drunk as a brewer’s fart.

This book, a chat over drinks with his wife Victoria, brings out some of the kind, human, down-to-earth, honest and very Irishly funny qualities of the lead singer of The Pogues (and former member of the Nipple Erectors).

Lynn Barber, in The Observer, says of the book, ‘One of the freshest, most original biographies I’ve ever read.’.

Some morsels for you on sex, drugs, marriage, and definitive Irish nurturing.

She gave him a handjob on the beach, the first day they went out for a date, so he fell in love with her.

Okay, it’s not funny. Well, maybe just a bit short of very.

Why do you think you take drugs?

Cos I like them.

And on coming out of rehab, ‘Very strange… very strange. Very strange.

On getting spliced…

Tom, don’t marry Monica. For God’s sake!

Why do you say that?

Cause she’ll make you have a bath! … And she’ll try to make you go to bed early and stuff like that.

So what cultivates a great songster?

And that’s how John McCormack learned to sing, you know.

How?

By being beaten, and fucking going to church.

Is it?’

Yeah. Classic Irish upbringing.

Thank god it’s Friday. I’m off to the beach.

Thanks for being here.

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The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare (1596)

Your favourite bit, aside from O, she doth teach the torches to shine bright! and But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

(I love Willy when he does the puppet word shadow order thing – okay, okay, I’ll keep practicing – remember that delicious Though hast by moonlight at her window sung from A Midsummer Night’s Dream a couple of posts back?)

Mine’s got to be the nurse dealing with the big sleep. But first it would be unfair not to bow to the boys who land some lovely love lines. Take Mercutio.

By her fine foot, straight leg, and quivering thigh,

And the demesnes that there adjacent lie…

What. To say I’ll show you my demesnes if you show me yours would sound a bit odd. But good for adding a bit of carnal intrigue and suspenders.

Or Romeo’s corker.

…The all-seeing sun

Ne’er saw her match, since first the world begun.

[Sssh, don’t tell Jules: the fickle fawn talks of Rosaline.]

So. Take it away, nursey-nurse.

She’s thinking Juliet’s bought the farm. It’s show time, folks.

O woe! O woful, woful, woful day!

Most lamentable day! Most woful day,

That ever, ever, I did yet behold!

O day! O day! O day! O hateful day!

Never was seen so black a day as this:

O woful day, O woful day!

Sounds like a limoncello hangover to me.

Sensational hand-flapping discombobulation at its best, don’t you think?

Time for my bottle.

Thanks for being here.

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The Moving Target by Ross Macdonald (1949)

How does he do it? How does he make you turn those pages, rapaciously reading? And what’s hidden in his noir style that gives it that compelling impetus?

Let’s remind ourselves of the definition of ‘noir’. ‘A genre of crime film or fiction characterised by cynicism, fatalism, and moral ambiguity.’

No wonder I like it so much.

So what’s under the bonnet? Let’s have a look at a couple of style tools from a couple of the books in the 18-book Lew Archer series (The Moving Target being the first).

Like his forerunner Raymond Chandler, Macdonald uses someone’s surroundings – usually a room – to describe their character and aura.

Colour works.

The waiting room was finished in cool green cloth and bleached wood. A blonde receptionist with cool green eyes completed the colour scheme and said: ‘Do you have an appointment, sir?’

Or mix and match.

The waitress had a red-checked apron that matched the tablecloth and a complexion that matched the coffee.

That’s all very well for the bland and bleak. How to ratchet it up a bit? Liven it up. Hey, maybe even a bit of menace. This is after all, a detective series.

How about a killer colour contrast?

A woman in a red sweater and slacks was curled like a scarlet snake in one corner of a green canvas porch swing.

Bingo. Now we’re talking. Something dangerous on something soft.

Which brings us to observation. Noir detectives take you with them, usually using the first person. The narrative style is to get you hooked on observing with them. It’s their job, and they have to observe everything. It’s a matter of life or death.

Hatred flashed in the ocean-coloured eyes and disappeared, like a shark-fin.

With so much at stake, that observation has to be sharp. And when the chips are down, any resulting actions need to be slow and almost ponderous to avoid sudden movements or accidents. Repetition is a lovely tool for this.

‘Now take it easy, this is a gun I have at your back. Don’t you feel it?’

I felt it. I took it easy.

Dig that pace.

Or this less obvious repetition of an idea, for impact…

She thrust herself out of her seat, a gaunt Mexican girl with hair like fresh poured tar. From her clenched right fist, a four-inch knife-blade projected upward.

How’s that for determination. Love the thrust coming so early, about twenty words before the knife even thinks about coming into the paragraph.

Glad she isn’t my landlady.

What about the moral ambiguity? Well, in Macdonald’s case, it’s often tip-toeing around Lew Archer’s acute observation of the female form. After all, you can almost hear him say, that’s where the real power lies.

She was dressed to attract attention in a black-and-white-striped linen dress with a plunging neckline and a very close waist. I gave her attention.

Please don’t tell me you missed the repetition of ‘attention’ there.

The violence of her reaction was surprising. Her whole body leaned in the zebra-shaped dress, and her breasts pressed together like round clenched fists in the V of her neckline.

I’m off to the gym.

Thanks for being here.

Note: the first quote is The Moving Target. The rest are from the second book in the series, The Drowning Pool.

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Keen? Here’s a list, in order, of the Lew Archer series by Ross Macdonald:

  1. The Moving Target (1949)
  2. The Drowning Pool (1950)
  3. The Way Some People Die (1951)
  4. The Ivory Grin (1952; aka Marked for Murder)
  5. Find a Victim (1954)
  6. The Barbarous Coast (1956)
  7. The Doomsters (1958)
  8. The Galton Case (1959)
  9. The Wycherly Woman (1961)
  10. The Zebra-Striped Hearse (1962)
  11. The Chill (1964)
  12. The Far Side of the Dollar (1965)
  13. Black Money (1966)
  14. The Instant Enemy (1968)
  15. The Goodbye Look (1969)
  16. The Underground Man (1971)
  17. Sleeping Beauty (1973)
  18. The Blue Hammer (1976)

Through The Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

With the prolapse a little less livid, I’m able to sit still long enough to do something I’ve always wanted to do.

Don’t worry, you can open your eyes.

Take a deep breath.

It’s an OCD’d glossary bringing together the Looking-glass book containing Jabberwocky that Alice finds when with that wacko the White Knight, and the compelling definitions of the words in the first verse of the same poem given later on by that cocky fancy-pants Humpty Dumpty. (I think he was pushed.)

The full poem and Mr Dumpty’s pontifications are about 70 pages apart.

You feeling it, too? Bit of a buzz, huh? Who needs tequila.

I’ve put Humpty Dumpty’s explanations for the wonderful oojahs in comments and laid them over the first verse and taken a screenshot. I’ve also done a transcript of this image at the end of this post in case the screenshot’s crap on a mobile. Must get out more.

Wallow in this.

‘You seem very clever at explaining words. Sir,’ said Alice. ‘Would you kindly tell me the meaning of the poem called “Jabberwocky”‘?

‘Let’s hear it,’ said Humpty Dumpty. ‘I can explain all the poems that were ever invented – and a good many that haven’t been invented yet.’ [Git.]

This sounded very hopeful, so Alice repeated the first verse:

[Da-da!]

Peachy, eh? Not easily done. In straightjacket with a pen in my mouth.

Thanks for being here.

[Illustration by John Tenniel]

Through The Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)

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[Transcript of above screenshot:]

Jabberwocky

‘Twas brillig [‘“Brillig” means four o’clock in the afternoon – the time when you begin broilingthings for dinner.’], and the slithy [‘Well, “slithy” means “lithe and slimy”. “Lithe” is the same as “active”. You see it’s like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word.’] toves [‘Well, “toves” are something like badgers – they’re something like lizards – and they’re something like corkscrews… also they make their nest under sun-dials – also they live on cheese.’]
Did gyre [‘To “gyre” is to go round and round like a gyroscope.’] and gimble [‘To “gimble” is to make holes like a gimblet.’] in the wabe [In reply to Alice’s ‘And “the wabe” is the grass-plot round a sun-dial, I suppose?’] “Of course it is. It’s called “wabe” you know, because it goes a long way before it, and a long way behind it.’];
All mimsy [‘Well then, “mimsy” is “flimsy and miserable” (there’s another portmanteau for you).’] were the borogoves [‘And a “borogrove” is a thin shabby-looking bird with its feathers sticking out all round – something like a live mop.’],
And the mome raths [‘Well, a “rath” is a sort of green pig: but “mome” I’m not certain about. I think it’s short for “from home” – meaning they’ve lost their way, you know.’] outgrabe [‘Well, “outgribing” is something between bellowing and whistling, with a kind of sneeze in the middle…’].

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare (1595)

Your favourite bit, aside from knowing a bank where the wild thyme blows, Methought I was enamoured of an ass, and My cherry lips have often kissed thy stones?

Mine’s got to be, apart from Oberon’s joyfully puerile And loos’d his love shaft smartly from his bow, pissed-off and indignant papa Egeus whinging about his daughter Hermia being courted by the relentless Lysander.

Sit back and enjoy wonder boy Lysander in action. Butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth.

This man has bewitch’d the bosom of my child:

Thou, thou, Lysander, thou hast given her rhymes,

And interchang’d love-tokens with my child:

Though hast by moonlight at her window sung,

With feigning voice, verses of feigning love;

And stol’n the impression of her fantasy

With bracelets of thy hair, rings, gawds, conceits,

Knacks, trifles, nosegays, sweet-meats; messengers

Of strong prevailment in unharden’d youth:

With cunning hast thou filch’d my daughter’s heart...

Get in. Ten out of ten for effort.

The bard’s best play? Perhaps so, it’s fun, funny, ardent and sexy.

And that’s not all. It has one of the most alluring lines in literature, from the gorgeous Titania:

Go with me, and I will give you fairies to attend on you.

Got to go. Tania’s in a taxi outside.

Thanks for being here.

[Illustration by Sir John Gilbert, R. A.]

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