Suppose a Sentence
Fitzcarraldo Editions, £10.99 pb, 200 pp
In one of the indelible memories of my life, I take in a room drained of sunlight – late afternoon, early evening – and the blotchy font of a 1990s Picador paperback edition of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient. I feel a slipping sentence: ‘In the kitchen she doesn’t pause but goes through it and climbs the stairs which are in darkness and then continues along the long hall, at the end of which is a wedge of light from an open door.’ The words move and there is movement and ‘a buckle of noise’ and ‘the first drops of rain’.
With the benefit of two decades of reading, I see the way Michael Ondaatje carefully withholds punctuation, and I note the cinematographic effect in both the sequence of clauses and the present tense, and how the cadence of ‘long’ and ‘along’ lies against ‘which’ and ‘wedge’.
I wrote this before opening Suppose a Sentence by Irish-born essayist Brian Dillon. I was delighted to find, in the introduction, that he too ‘went chasing eclipses: those moments of reading when the light changes’. For twenty-five years, Dillon has been copying sentences into the back pages of his notebooks. Suppose a Sentence focuses on twenty-eight of these sentences with an accompanying essay on each.