“Excuse me, but you lost your quotation marks.”

There are a lot of ways writers get creative with style and they way they use fonts, spacing, etc. to tell their story. It can enhance the reader’s experience by pulling them into the story even more and give a direct visual. One example that comes to mind is when an author is describing a telegram, funeral announcement, or an invitation. Another example is adjusting font for a letter from one person to another. Those things are excellent if they are used well.

On the other hand, an author can use a style method and over do it to the point where it pulls you out of the joy of reading.  I am not a huge fan of italics and when an author over uses them to convey a character’s thoughts or to show that a character is emphasizing every other word he or she is speaking drives me insane! Of course, these are up to authors and their respective editors, but there are certain things, in my opinion, that shouldn’t be messed with. One prime example is the omission of quotation marks for dialogue….for the entire length of the book.

There are books I’ve read where the dialogue is rapid fire or it’s sort of like everything is a haze and the author “let’s the dialogue go” to show the uncertainty or instability.  A recent example is in Justin Cronin’s “The Twelve” and even in Edith Wharton’s “The Age of Innocence.” Like anything else, when used well – and sparingly –  it works.

Last year I attempted to read “The Queen of the Night” by Alexander Chee.  I had heard rave reviews over this one; someone even said it was the most perfect book ever written. That is quite an expectation for a book to live up to and I certainly wasn’t expecting it to be THAT great, but I was interested. I got about 50-70 pages into it before I got very frustrated and popped it in the give-away bin.

“Dude,” I screamed. “Where are the quotation marks?!

[Disclaimer: I am not a grammar police officer. I do not pretend to know the ins-and-outs of it. This is my Point of View.]

 

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I have read many more books since then and all have followed this very basic, first grade grammar rule of using punctuation to indicate when a character is speaking. I cannot speak on how other languages indicate dialogue as I am only able to read English, but I can imagine they too have some sort of symbol saying, “Hey! I’m talkin’ here!” Right now I am reading a book called “By Gaslight” by Steve Price and he too completely omits the quotes. The difference between “The Queen of the Night” and “By Gaslight” is the latter is more readable. I must admit I had a bit of an eye roll session when I saw this style is continued throughout the book, but there is something about the way Price writes that makes his use of this stylistic choice easier for me to read.

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Let’s to back to “TQofN.” I searched google to see if the author gave any insight on this. Had he has! [From BookoftheMonth.com] There’s a discussion this exact concept and some people are OK with it, others were annoyed:

I chose not to use quotation marks for this novel because [the main character] is recounting dialogue that she remembers from several different languages, but she is not recounting it in those languages–she’s translating it into English because that is how she remembers it. Quotation marks would have drawn attention to that–and then a French person speaking in English or a German person speaking in German would, to my mind, look simply ridiculous. I can appreciate that it isn’t to everyone’s tastes. But it was not done to be trendy. And as it is a choice made by writers like James Joyce, I felt like I was within a tradition. –Alexander Chee

 

I appreciate the author’s desire to be loyal to his characters by not making them “quote” memories or even to quote when they are speaking another language. However, there may have been a way to do just that without confusing readers or making them work to understand. I have read many books where characters are speaking other languages and the author uses quotes but indicates the language. For example, “I am so happy,” she said in French. “I wish I could stay like this forever!” or they simply write it out in the language the character is speaking and, in a round about way, translates it or does not. Admittedly, when an author neglects to translate in English it is frustrating but you can kind of figure it out based on the context. Kind of like learning what a word means based on the sentence it is in.

For me, TQofN was not reader-friendly for me. I’m a very well-rounded reader and I am always willing to give stylistic choices a chance. While I am thoroughly enjoying “By Gaslight”, it has been a slow go. Yes, it is a 700-pager, but the speed at which I could be reading is not as fast as I would like. Perhaps that is the goal? I cannot say for sure. Personally, it is a style choice I am not a fan of. For future reading options, I think I may have to flip through pages to be sure the author has used his or her quotation marks.

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