Tuesday, 11 July 2006


I just had an interesting conversation with a friend who pops in to read the comments about books. (Yep, it's lean pickings. I know.)

Appalled, she was, by my musings in type on the largely Australian phenomenon of the zero or minimal location novel. Ahem. It's just an opinion. And not a very well-thought out one at that. I was merely cogitating.

Did I enjoy Peter Temple's The Broken Shore? she wanted to know. (It was difficult to tell from my observations, where I had leapt from the novel into the critical abyss.)

Yes. Yes, I did.

Particularly the dialogue. No other Australian crime writer produces dialogue as authentic as Temple's. Damn it! Few crime writers anywhere can match his dialogue—especially his use of the vernacular.

Dialogue is tricky. We've all read books where the conversation is clunky. My worst-dialogue-ever award goes to an American crime writer who sets novels in a fictionalised England that seems to be populated entirely by Dick van Dyke clones (Gawd bless yer, guv'nor. Yer a toff.) and Yorkshiremen (Eh, up. There's trouble at t'mill.) Sometimes both. In the same place. And occasionally in the same person.

The best dialogue sounds naturalistic without being natural. It's a representation. Let's face it—real conversation is not that riveting. It's full of hesitation and repetition, mumbling, stumbling and ill-conceived ideas. Mine is, anyway. You might be Oscar Wilde. I dunno.

Great dialogue reveals character, tightens the screws and moves a story along. Done well, it achieves this without drawing attention to itself. Dialogue that waits for applause like a superannuated actor in a sit com simply grates.

Temple does terrific dialogue in The Broken Shore. Just as he does in the Jack Irish novels. (I haven't read the others, but I'm sure they're in the same category.) I've been combing through the text to extract a piece of dialogue as an exemplar, but here's the problem—the effect is cumulative. Slapping down a couple of lines of conversation would give you about as much of an idea of his skill as a brick would give you of a whole building. Read the books. Enjoy them.

I'd better finish here before you think I'm obsessed.


Anonymous said...

The author will no doubt protest at the criticism of his anywhere location, but I suspect that he could mount a decent defence. As for the observations on dialogue, how could he not love your intelligence?

Snail said...


And I'm sure any defence (were one needed!) would be much more articulate and incisive than my criticism.

I just hope that, should he ever stumble across this blog, he wouldn't think that the concluding lines of my rant were directed at his work! I was railing at ... well ... everything!

Anonymous said...

The author may well stumble upon this blog, He seems to be a stumbler, an ambler and a stumbler, a peerer into rock pools, ignorant but interested, his eye caught by colours and forms.

Snail said...

That seems like a good way to be.

And after rethinking things, I've snipped out that silly piece on the blog.