TPAOL Question #22 ~ Writing Style

by James Meek

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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TPAOL Question #22 ~ Writing Style

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Feb 22, 2007 9:33 am

What did you think of Meek’s style of writing and storytelling?
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Unread postby Gilbert's Girl » Thu Feb 22, 2007 10:05 am

Very compelling, certainly knows how to draw you in and keep you there. Reminded me very much of Gregory David Roberts in that way.

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Unread postby gemini » Thu Feb 22, 2007 11:11 am

Meeks back and forth in time style gives clues and sparks your interest and later reveals the backstory. Harsh descriptions of life. Thought provoking. Very good character descriptions, not only in apperance but their outlooks on life. The war and prison scenes are so descriptive you feel repulsed and hoping for some sort of miracle to salvage their destroyed lives. He holds parts of the story back for suspense while leaving clues to the outcome. He lets the audience suspect the danger Anna may be in from Samarin, letting us worry for her while she is still innocently infatuated with him. When the truth is revealed about Samarin the reader feels taken in by him but still wondering if there is something redeeming left in him.
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Unread postby Endora » Thu Feb 22, 2007 11:55 am

I liked his style a great deal. I liked the way he described mood and landscape, and I liked the way that he chose to tell the story rom several different points of view rather than just Samarins or Annas. I thought that worked very well as a device to let us know about everyone's motives.

I think it was nominated for the Man-Booker, wasn't it, the year Line of Beauty won. I liked TPOAL much better that the contrived over-clever style of LoB.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Feb 22, 2007 12:22 pm

I agree with both of you that his setting of mood was perfect. I love his descriptive passages. I found myself going back and reading many of them again and again they were so well written. I can tell from the discussion that we feel like we know these characters. Endora, I agree that telling the story from many points of view made it very interesting and compelling. When the story really took off in the second part of the book I was completely invested with each of the characters and couldn't stop reading wanting to find out what would happen.

I believe he was nominated for the Man-Booker prize. I haven't read Line of Beauty.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby Liz » Thu Feb 22, 2007 12:45 pm

He made the Man Booker Prize Longlist.

I agree with all of you so far that his descriptions are quite good. He had a way of describing his characters so that we felt we actually knew them. Maybe not some of them until the end, though. He wanted to keep us guessing about Samarin, and that he did. I liked how the story unfolded—the back and forth style to which Gemini referred. I felt it was slow going at first; but the last half of the book kept my interest quite well.

His writing, at times, was also very beautiful or lyrical:


Pg. 101. “‘So,’ said Anna. They laughed. Anna was trembling. She was afraid of such power. When it seemed there was no limit to happiness, her lover’s face, his limbs, his breathing, his eyes, the gentlest movement of his mouth, or a blink, told her with a stronger dose of joy that the universe was theirs to play with, that all the world was crouched in listening and waiting, that time had stopped its jagged progress and smoothed down a place for them to love on as they chose, that there would be no more history until Anna and her lover said it should begin again.”
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Unread postby Depputante » Thu Feb 22, 2007 1:41 pm

I enjoyed the book as a whole, and can really admire him for all the extra work and diligence he put into the book. Such details, Names, and historical references were very interesting. I enjoyed the descriptive reading style, it was not so 'potent' as "Perfume" novel, but it was very European in style. (I don't know anything about European style. :dunce: ) Let me explain visually. The book reminds me of a piece of old doiley lace. Rough, perhaps even stained through life's difficulties, yet detailed and refined; care taken of it over the ages.

I had the most difficulty in two chapters. Anna, and Reds.

Anna's chapter I found exceedingly long. Was it necessary to be so long, and put so much weight on her past? I'm not convinced. Her role may be just as important as that of Balashov, and Samarin, but I think he could have made the same point in a much shorter chapter. :eyebrow:

The beginning of the Reds chapter wasn't too long, but more boring really. I understand the historical significance, and I enjoyed the reading of when they were actually in the train, but kept wondering if it was really necessary. I figure they could have had the train coming down the track at the end, and had Balashov on his horse etc just as well. The train seemed to be used to simply keep the Mutz etc, occupied for the end of the story events. :-?
Last edited by Depputante on Thu Feb 22, 2007 2:12 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Unread postby gemini » Thu Feb 22, 2007 2:07 pm

In pondering everyone thoughts on Meeks writing I thought of a couple other aspects that I forgot to mention. The one thing I found most different about his writing is his ability to take on tough subject matter that is not often found in a novel like cannibalism and castrates. Maybe being a journalist as well as a writer influences him to write this way.
He also doesn't make anyone of his characters a hero, they all have flaws, and are shown in both good and bad light.
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Unread postby Liz » Thu Feb 22, 2007 2:30 pm

Depputante wrote: Let me explain visually. The book reminds me of a piece of old doiley lace. Rough, perhaps even stained through life's difficulties, yet detailed and refined; care taken of it over the ages.

That's beautiful, Depputante.

I had the hardest time with the chapters prior to Anna. :eyebrow: I found her story very interesting. And that was when the book grabbed me.


gemini wrote:Maybe being a journalist as well as a writer influences him to write this way.
He also doesn't make anyone of his characters a hero, they all have flaws, and are shown in both good and bad light.

I think that a journalist probably can be more objective. And that is why he can see both their flaws and the good in them. However, he doesn't have a journalistic style at all.
You can't judge a book by its cover.

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Unread postby Linda Lee » Thu Feb 22, 2007 6:11 pm

I enjoyed Meek's style, the story being told from the point of view of each of the characters was different. It was easy to read and was set in an interesting place and time. The characters were interesting and unusual, :-O to say the least.
During the discussion, I did have to refer back to the book frequently for details I either overlooked or did not remember.
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Unread postby Bix » Thu Feb 22, 2007 7:45 pm

I have to agree with what you have all said about Meeks's wonderful descriptions and character development. I was really dreading starting this novel - I guess remembering back to trudging through the Russian classics in high school and college and being thoroughly bogged down in somber, dark page after page after page. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find TPAOL so contemporary in tone, so full of humor - if that is the right word for it. I just didn't expect to be so delighted by a book which dealt with all the topics I knew it contained. It was almost like reading Nick Hornby again! I don't really know how to better describe what I'm talking about, so I hope someone else noticed this too and can help me out with some better words. :blush:
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Unread postby Liz » Thu Feb 22, 2007 8:24 pm

Bix wrote:I have to agree with what you have all said about Meeks's wonderful descriptions and character development. I was really dreading starting this novel - I guess remembering back to trudging through the Russian classics in high school and college and being thoroughly bogged down in somber, dark page after page after page. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find TPAOL so contemporary in tone, so full of humor - if that is the right word for it. I just didn't expect to be so delighted by a book which dealt with all the topics I knew it contained. It was almost like reading Nick Hornby again! I don't really know how to better describe what I'm talking about, so I hope someone else noticed this too and can help me out with some better words. :blush:


I cannot help you with that, Bix, although I will agree that the book is contemporary in tone. It handled in a very open way some very unusual and disturbing topics that may have been taboo in literature of the past.
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Unread postby Parlez » Thu Feb 22, 2007 9:31 pm

This was one of the most interesting, compelling, unusual books I've ever read. And I'd describe the characters the same way. I agree with what everyone else has said about Meek's style and his ability to draw the reader into a very extreme world. For me, the book progressed rather nicely, with a nice pace, etc., until the scene where Balashov got on his horse and drew his sword against Matula - then the writing really came alive and reached a new level of visual drama I hadn't expected. I was caught off guard by that, and the forceful rush of power coming off the page at me was extraordinary. I don't know what 'style' that is, but I think it takes a very gifted writer to be able to pull that off.
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Thu Feb 22, 2007 9:49 pm

I think his journalistic skills came to play here. He was able to describe setting and action in such a way that we felt we were there.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby nebraska » Thu Feb 22, 2007 11:30 pm

DeppInTheHeartOfTexas wrote:I think his journalistic skills came to play here. He was able to describe setting and action in such a way that we felt we were there.


I also think it helped that he lived in Russia for several years.....he had a feel for the people and the land that he could not have gained from doing research alone. It was almost like he was "one of them" when he began to write.

I still want to read this book again. I missed so much the first time through and I was not able to participate much in the discussion because of that. The whole Samarin lie thing escaped me. :dunce:

I do remember dreading this book, thinking it would be a difficult read, and being surprised by how lyrical and descriptive the writing was! I remember emailing another ONBC member about my absolute delight in the writing style ...... I should not have been surprised, with just one or two (my personal taste) exceptions, Johnny seems to be drawn to books that are exquisitely beautiful in their words and sentences and paragraphs. Artwork with words. And I have come to the conclusion that I would read anything he recommended or found interesting enough to read himself.


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