The figurative language of Colum McCann….

Reading time: Less than 2 minutes

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors from Irish-American writer Colum McCann….

Irish-American writer Colum McCann (pictured above), was born in Dublin but now lives and works in New York City. I fell in love with his 2009 National Book Award winning novel Let The Great World Spin and, as a result,  I approached his more recent novella 13 Ways of Looking, with enthusiasm bordering on zealotry.

As I expected, the book was filled with remarkable figurative language, particularly personification. Here are my favourite examples:

  • All full snow that a touch of fancy language can make any stupidity shine.
  • The years don’t so much arrive, they gatecrash, the breeze through the door and leave their devastation, all the empty crockery, the broken veins, sunken eye pools, aching gums, but who is he to complain, he’s had plenty of years to get used to it, he was hardly a handsome Harry in the first place….
  • Yet there is something lovely about her cadence. She speaks with bright coins in her voice. A tambourine in her throat.
  • Occasionally there would be a schmuck who couldn’t fold the paper at all and he would be there, arms flailing, paper wrestling, no respect, and accordion of elbows, the same species who could never find his commuter pass, or who dropped his coffee, always fumbling around, making noise, causing a fuss.
  • Eileen Daly. Even then she was a beauty. Alabaster skin and a row of dainty freckles paintbrushed across her nose.
  • The eyes are hooded, the jaw is slack, he wears little half-moons of fatigue beneath his spectacles. A burst of wrinkles from the eyes. Another little burst of hair from the side of his hat.
  • The detectives can imagine him at home, like most in sleep, his pajama collar askew, a light snore sailing from the back of his throat.
  • He is tall and broad-shouldered, with a large stomach, as if he has swallowed a bag of rocks.
  • He does indeed look — what’s the word? — Oh, it’s fallen off the cliff face, gone, the old Yiddish phrase, there is a few still in the vault, they bob up like Halloween apples, here and there….
  • Dandinho pours with great panache, one hand kept behind his back, as if his whole body is paying respect to the water glass.
  • He arrived in a suit jacket and blue shirt and white chef pants, a sad garage sale of a man, fifty-seven years old, a little isthmus of hair in the center of his forehead.
  • The female detective speaks to him at first in the Spanish that seems as if it has been scuffed and rolled on the streets of the city.
  • Good God, but it [the snow] is curtaining down.
  • And yet there something about the man’s face — if only for a split second — that sluices a sense of ice along the tunnel of her spine
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