A recent contribution is Jason Elliot's An Unexpected Light (1999), from the introduction of which comes this sentence:
'It was the strangest thing, but as soon as we'd stepped out of the little plane onto Afghan soil, I felt as though some inner clock of mine, which had stopped since I had last been there, began to tick again: it was like going into a room which has stayed locked while the rest of the house has been lived in.' (p. 12)
Here are six reasons why I like it.
- At 60 words the sentence is long. I find this ignoring of the shorter is better rule interesting. It makes Elliot's use of punctuation a central part of his style, and in this way connects his writing to earlier, often criticised traditions that value rhetorical flourish.
- The punctuation creates a three-part sentence, an idea with three aspects, a house with three rooms.
- Momentum is carried by the conversational tone of the first part, a tone that loosens the sentence structure and establishes a reason for the tighter, increasingly figurative tone of the second and third.
- The similes are given purchase by the opening idea of physical arrival, and the expression and expansion of a link between the exterior and inner worlds of the writer. Physical arrival triggers an inner change.
- I understand what Elliot means: he expresses an idea that I can relate to my own experience of returning to Iceland, my country of birth.
- In its staggered movement from the outer to inner worlds, and in the sense of loss that it evokes, the sentence reminds me of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1945), a personal favourite.
Elliot, Jason. An Unexpected Light: Travels in Afghanistan. Picador, 1999.