A building that’s mournfully aloof….

Word count: 236 words

Reading time: Less than 1 minute

Each week I identify a sentence from my reading that I’ve found particularly effective. By emulating such writers at Tessa Hadley we can learn a great deal.

I’ve written many times about why writers should avoid adjectives and adverbs and concentrate instead on finding crisp nouns and evocative verbs. But I’m beginning to realize that the perfectly executed adverb is quite a wonderful thing.

Consider my sentence-of-the-week from the novel The London Train by Tessa Hadley:

“It [a library] was a Carnegie endowment from the early 20th century, built like an odd-shaped church with two naves at right angles and high windows of greenish glass, mournfully aloof from the squat, bustling shopping street of fast-food joints, quirky cafes, cheap mini-markets, hairdressers.”

I think it works, in part, because of the personification — an aloof library building. Isn’t that marvellous? “Mournfully” is also such an interesting modifier for “aloof.” To me, “aloof” connotes a snobbishness or a superiority. I like it that the writer has emphasized a different aspect of the word  — focusing instead, on separation or estrangement.

I also enjoy the picture this sentence creates in my mind’s eye. I have seen a building exactly like that, in Cambridge, not London. And the one I saw wasn’t a library, but a coffee shop. Still, even if you’d never been in such a building I think you’d be able to visualize it after reading this resonant sentence.

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