Beyond the tinnitus hiss of silence…

Word count: 274 words

Reading time: About 1 minute

A great way to improve your writing is to emulate the work of others. That’s why, every week, I present a sentence that I’d happily imitate. I comment today on a sentence written by Ian McEwan.

I’m a big fan of novelist Ian McEwan. Atonement is perhaps my favourite work. But I also enjoyed On Chesil Beach (even though I know others who criticized it for being far too short) and Amsterdam (although I don’t feel it deserved the Man Booker prize in 1998, as it did.) Saturday is probably my least favourite novel of his, but I still enjoyed it.

His latest book, Sweet Tooth, is a rather clever spy story, of the British sort. Devastatingly well-written, it features carefully drawn, highly engaging characters. I don’t normally like massive plot twists, particularly at the end, but this one, I thought, was very clever. (I don’t want to tell you any more so I won’t spoil your own reading pleasure.)

I will, however, tell you that the book gave me my sentence of the week. Here it is:

I stood still and listened and heard, beyond the tinnitus hiss of silence, the city’s hum and, nearer, creaks and clicks as the shell of the building cooled and contracted in the night air.

Personifying silence was an especially clever manoeuvre, I thought, and I liked the way Ian McEwan repurposed the noun tinnitus to an adjective. I also admire the way he captured the sounds a building makes as it cools. This is a phenomenon I’ve frequently noticed but never thought to remark upon.

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