Extract 2 from ‘The Great English Novel’

His hair had never been well groomed at the best of times.  Now it was long and tangled and flecked with grey.  But any serious writer needed a little silver in his tresses, denoting his intellectual maturity, reflecting the long years of endeavour.  Besides, where was a gentleman to find a decent barber, out here in the country?  And it wasn’t as though there was a procession of visitors for whom he needed to keep up appearances.  He liked to think that he looked somewhat like Georges Perec, what with his wild hair and beard.  His eyes too had grown a little wild.  There were far worse resemblances.

Perhaps he should rewrite the Great English Novel then, eschewing the alphabet’s second vowel.  Never another ‘E’… just think of it!  What would that Trainspotting guy say to that?  (Okay, so our Scotsman’s a third-rank pugilist, I’ll admit, a fly or bantam at most).  You might start all your words with an ‘A’ (you could apply any consonant you’d want though).  That way you’d transform it into an Astounding Anglo-Saxon Almanac.  Taking this as his starting point, our author would construct again his magnum opus, using only words without that particular symbol, arriving at his Almighty Album of Albion.  It might look difficult, almost an impossibility you’d say.  Notwithstanding, it could still occur if you thought about it assiduously, if your approach was suitably cunning.  You’d join a galaxy of Gallic giants – Balzac, Zola, Proust, Camus, and naturally, our man sans that fifth symbol, author of La Disparation.  You might pass your days in a dim-lit bar, smoking a Galois, knocking back your Sauvignon and brandy as music suitably Francois – Aznavour, say, or Halliday plays on a crackling radiogram.

Gods of all faiths including Christianity (both Catholic and Calvinist), Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Shinto, Buddhism, and from pagan ritual too, Thor and Odin from Viking saga, Apollo and Mars from Roman mythology, Allah, Jah, Vishnu and all… if that fantastic array of immortals didn’t apply it, why should our Grand British Author?

But it would bring out his obscurantism, that most cryptic form of arcana, playing up to his liking for anagrams, conundrums, palindromic pranks and so on, indulging in word-play of a most lavish kind… corny puns, acrostics, various linguistic high-jinks.  Building on foundations of quicksand, availing any man who should look upon it with no rhythm or rational basis, cutting him adrift in a flood of words without aid of dictionary or abacus or compass…  Articulating abstractions and outlandish grammatical constructions, lost in what you might call a labyrinth or catacomb of nouns…

If you should disallow all such words – your ‘disavowal’ as you might call it – an amount of difficulty must soon follow, a paucity of vocabulary without that fifth unit of our linguistic paradigm.

Only an hour or so would pass though and it’d start to look a bit of a yawn, if not wholly forlorn.  You’d shortly find your pupils glazing across, your mind drifting off.  And within a day you’d grow truly sick of it.  It was just too much akin to hard work.

He yawned then fell asleep.

gen cover

Text and image © PSR 2002

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