By now everyone on the planet knows that I’m reading Cloud Atlas. And that I’m struggling. It’s not a struggle reminiscent of Mrs Dalloway or Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrel. But it’s a struggle: I need to look up the meaning of every third of fourth word. I have to reread the sentence or paragraph and only then can I laugh, belatedly, at the narrator’s joke or snide comment.
I don’t mind using a dictionary; however, I think David Mitchell went overboard with the words he chose. I appreciate jargon — when it’s needed — and the occasional Française phrase. But why so often? And why does he insist on using flamboyant words instead of their more well-known synonyms of German descent?
I could never write like that. My writing is bland in comparison but I’d rather be understood. I don’t want to force my readers to a dictionary with every sentence. Or every word. Use le mot juste but do not make me grope for my dictionaries only to spend half an hour deciphering what you meant.
But sometimes I wonder whose readers are worse off: those who use everyday words and the occasional sprinkling of highbrow words, or those who use many such words? Yes, perhaps my readers never encounter a new word when they read my articles. And sometimes I feel guilty. Should I be using more unknown words (I was reluctant to use that adjective, I promise), even though they do not form part of my vocabulary? And how many are enough?
One of the clever boys I dated told me someone, somewhere will always think my writing is too ‘intelligent’; I should just relax and do what I enjoy most — write. And not worry about the supposed intellectual quotient. Besides, Hemingway also didn’t care much for big words. So I’m in excellent company. And I am well on my way to becoming an eristic lapidary.
But why do I struggle through this book? Well, because of sentences such as these: “The youngest dendroglyph is, I suppose, ten years old, but the elders, grown distended as the trees matured, were incised by heathens whose very ghosts are long defunct.”