The central bonfire licked the sky…

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 similes from novelist Paula McLain…

I discovered the American writer Paual McLain through her wildly successful novel, The Paris Wife —  a fictionalized account of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage to Hadley Richardson. Seeking to parlay her first great success — in which she took a real life story and cleverly presented it as fiction — McLain has now done the same thing with aviator Beryl Markham.

This new novelCircling the Sun by, isn’t quite as successful as the first, at least not by my eye. But it does allow her to demonstrate her flair for simile. McLain holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and her background shows in this novel.

Here are some of the similes that particularly struck me:

  • When the March rains fell over the plains and the ragged face of the escarpment, six million yellow flowers cracked open all at once. Red-and-white butterflies, the ones that looked like peppermint sticks, flashed in twists against the sparkling air.
  • The groom, Toombo, had brushed Pegasus’s coat to a lacquer and now boosted me into the saddle. At two, Pegasus with massive already — a notch more than seventeen hands. I was tall, too — nearly 6 foot now — but I felt like a leaf in the saddle.
  • The starter’s hand climbed, then went still; the horses struggled in their places at the post, desperate to do what they had come for. The bell sounded, the horses breaking into a hiccup of colour and movement, 12 singular animals blurred and transposed.
  • The bodies on the dance floor were frenzied, as if everyone worried the night might pass before they’d reach their portion of happiness or forgetting.
  • Several thousand dancers gathered from tribes all over the area, their chiefs joining forces to give the princes a picture they’d never forget. The central bonfire licked up at the sky.
  • Just past midday, we stopped and rested in the muddled shade beneath a great baobab tree. It was squat and wide, with ribboning, undulating bark like a skirt of some sort, or like wings.