The figurative language of Craig Brown….

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

I like to share interesting pieces of figurative language I encounter in my reading. I write today about a series of metaphors from Craig Brown….

I’m not normally terribly interested in what the royal family might be up to. But when I heard (via podcasts) and read multiple rave reviews of the Craig Brown book Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret, I was persuaded to buy a copy.

It lived up to its star billing. Funny, thoughtful and exceptionally well written, the book provides a meditation on the art of biography and the troubled life of the late sister of Queen Elizabeth II — a cranky yet clever princess in her own right (pictured above at the races in Kingston, Jamaica in 1955.)

Here are my favourite examples of Brown’s fine use of language:

  • It was almost as though, early in life, she had contracted a peculiarly royal form of Tourette’s Syndrome, causing the sufferer to be seized by the unstoppable urge to say the wrong things.
  • She enjoyed playing with the boundaries of being royal, popping out from under the red silk rope, and then, just as abruptly, popping back beneath it, returning to her familiar world of starch and vinegar.
  • Even those who had managed to shuffle to their allocated seats without uttering the dread word were liable to be caught out the next morning, at breakfast time, when the Princess would reel back in horror if she heard the phrase ‘scrambled eggs,’ declaring irritably, “WE call them “butter eggs”!”
  • [In writing a biography] You try to make a haybale, but you end up with a haystack. And the needle is nowhere to be seen.
  • Throughout his time in her service, Payne seems to have been sizing up his mistress, her family and friends with the watchfulness of a boa constrictor.
  • ‘At each royal birth the new Order of Succession appeared in The Times, Margaret’s position moving down from second to third to fourth with monotonous regularity, like a game of Snakes and Ladders, all snake and no ladder.’ [this image from British journalist and biographer Selina Hasting]
  • The grandeur of their houses was offset by the reticence of the family itself. They tended to speak to one another with such courtesy that a passer-by might have assumed they had only just met.