Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Two Elements of Style. (Arts & Letters)

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Two Elements of Style. (Arts & Letters)

Article excerpt

"From Letters to a Young Novelist" by Mario Vargas Llosa, in Partisan Review (No 2, 2002), 236 Bay State Rd., Boston, Mass. 02215.

To succeed, a novelist must create a fiction that "liberates itself from its creator and real life, and impresses itself on the reader as an autonomous reality." And how does one accomplish that? In significant part through that mysterious thing called style, writes Vargas Llosa, the Peruvian novelist and onetime presidential candidate.

A writer's style must, in Vargas Llosa's view, have two elements: "internal coherence" and "essentiality." Molly Bloom's famous monologue at the end of Ulysses, for example, is incoherent. James Joyce's "power to bewitch derives from a prose that is seemingly ragged and fragmented, but beneath its unruly and anarchic surface retains a rigorous coherence, a structural consistency that follows a model or orignial system of rules and principles from which it never deviates."

A style need not be pleasant in order to succeed. Vargas Llosa is irritated by Louis-Ferdinand Celine's "short, stuttering little sentences, plagued with ellipses and packed with exclamations and slang," but novels such as Voyage to the End of the Night are finally hypnotic. Alejo Carpentier, "one of the greatest novelists of the Spanish language," writes in an entirely different style, rife with "stiffness" and "bookish mannerisms," yet his prose has a saving coherence. …

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