A cage of black silk

Word count: 377 words

Reading time: Just over 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing skills is to emulate the work of others. That’s why, every week, I present a sentence that I’d happily imitate. Today’s comes from Erin Morgenstern.

I heard about the book The Night Circus when it was published several years ago and the title languished in my cellphone for months. (In my cellphone’s address book I have two entries with the “last name” BOOKS. One carries the first name, “Novels,” the other, “Non-Fiction.” In the notes section I list the authors I want to read in alphabetical order and put the name of their book I want to read beside them. In this manner, whenever I am out, I always have my book lists with me.)

I was astonished to learn that Night Circus was a fantasy. How did that genre (no favourite of mine!) make it to my list? But I was on holiday and I decided to read it anyway. It began promisingly and initially, at least, I was swept away by the imagery and by pockets of lyrical writing.

But the plot. Ah, the plot. So lame. So ill-defended. And the characters. So wooden! The novel spent seven weeks on The New York Times bestseller list, reaching number two on the hardcover fiction list. But I’m more inclined to agree with Stacey D’Erasmo, in The New York Times Book Review, who complained that the book was not entrancing, surprising or beguiling enough. One section, to me, read like a Harlequin romance.

Still, if you’re a fantasy fan, you may like it. And I found occasional bits of very fine writing. Here is a sentence I particularly liked:

He takes his top hat from its stand and puts it on her head, where it slides down and obscures her questioning eyes in a cage of black silk. 

I like it’s specificity. Can’t you just picture a tall man taking a large top hat and placing it on the head of a much smaller woman? Of course it would slide down to her nose! I’m mildly claustrophobic so the image of the hat being a “cage of black silk” resonated particularly with me. I also like the vaguely sexual overtones of the sentence.

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