How often do you recognise joy as an emotion? More than just extreme contentment, but the emotion that’s coupled to a physical feeling of happiness and it’s like you’re sparkling inside…I imagine that everybody gets this from different things, but for me it’s words and language.
The first time I remember being consciously aware of the feeling was when reading a collection of Byron‘s poetry. There’s just something about the twists and spirals of wonderful language that really hits me. Stephen King does the same thing frequently – he’ll drop in a sentence so wonderfully surprising that I stop short and read it multiple times. I think it can be caused by beautiful phrases, but more often it’s because of a perfect metaphor or simile. It can happen in non-fiction too: Richard Dawkins and particularly the late Carl Sagan often express their meanings in beautiful linguistic turns, and I love feeling that wave of complete understanding when two seemingly unrelated ideas converge. I’m undoubtedly forgetting various authors, but those immediately spring to mind.
It just makes me happy. Unfortunately it’s almost impossible to exemplify, as I guess much depends on the moment, context, etc. Much as I enjoy all my various interests, I don’t experience that kind of joy with anything other than reading, and I guess it’s what compels me to try writing.
The reason this occured to me is that I just finished reading Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman and wanted to recommend it very highly. It’s a wonderful modern fairy tale set in London Below – the city of those who fall through the cracks. The book’s full of quirky little ideas that intrigue for a few paragraphs, but then the tale moves on. If I came up with just one or two of these creations for one of my stories I’d be happy indeed 🙂 Neverwhere is also another example of something of which I’m slowly becoming aware – that the things I most enjoy are entirely unpredictable from moment to moment.
You get the feeling throughout that Neil Gaiman is entirely in control of his style of writing. It’s told in a very relaxed style, but there are occasions where the language dances effortlessly around a revelation which was in hindsight fairly obvious, but simply never occured to you. Or there are times when reality shifts, and the language changes to become slightly more detached – as a reader you’re not quite sure what’s happening, mirroring the main character. There’s a sense of power behind the words; it’s like listening to Annie Lennox, or Celine Dion – the song could be soft and relaxing all the way through, but you’re aware at any time that they could turn up the volume and blast you away. You get the feeling that Neil Gaiman could, if he wished, scare the hell out of you without breaking a sweat. That, or drive you into madness.
The use of language frequently gave me the shivers, although often in a more subtle way. It was more of an overall thing in Neverwhere – the language was fantastic but also served to deepen the impression of the scene. It’s not that the words were just strung together nicely, it’s that they revealed more in the process. I think that makes sense.
Maybe this is too gushing, and maybe in a few weeks I’ll read it and cringe, but right now I can’t recommend Neverwhere enough. I found the novel excellent, from both a plot and language perspective, and encourage you to try it out. I’m trying to decide whether to read American Gods next, or whether to save it…I think I’ll read it now 🙂