The figurative language of Robert Harris…

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 and metaphors from Robert Harris….

On the recommendation of a friend, I read the novel Conclave by Robert Harris (pictured above) earlier this year. I liked the book well enough that I sought out another Harris novel before going on holiday earlier this month. Titled Enigma it’s a fictionalized account of the breaking of the Enigma Code by a top-secret team of British cryptographers in the 1940s. The book was written in 1995 and turned into a Kate Winslet movie in 2001.

I don’t generally read thrillers for metaphorical writing but I always take notes when I read, and Harris surprised me with his forceful use of figurative language. Here are the bits I liked best:

  • A dry and smoky autumn of golds and browns, the rooks whirling in the sky like cinders, gave way to a winter off a Christmas card.
  • In the headlights, a blonde head spun angrily and Jericho felt a rush of nausea. But it wasn’t her. It was a woman he didn’t recognize, a woman in an army uniform, a slash of scarlet lipstick like a wound across her face.
  • He was a big square-faced man with thick black hair and wide busy eyebrows that almost met above the bridge of his nose and reminded Jericho of the Morse code symbol for M.
  • Hammerbeck’s hair was the colour and thickness of steel wool.
  • Jericho looked up at the Atlantic, at the yellow discs of the convoys and the black triangles of the U-boats, sewn like shark’s teeth across the sea lanes.
  • He gave a sharp, explosive cough, which sounded as if small pieces of machinery were flying around loose in his chest, then sucked in another lungful of smoke and gestured with his cigarette.
  • He spoke carefully. Poor Logie was peering inside his tobacco pouch as if he wished he could climb in and never come out.
  • He had a pair of bruises just below the elbow as neat and black as damsons.
  • Hester Wallace passed within twenty feet in the moonlight, knees pumping, elbows stuck out, as angular as an old umbrella.
  • The smells and sounds of an English Sunday breakfast curled up the staircase of the Commercial Guesthouse and floated across the landing like a call to arms: the hiss of hot fat frying in the kitchen, the dirge-like strains of a church service being relayed by the BBC, the muffled crack of Mrs Armstrong’s worn slippers flapping like castanets on the linoleum floor.
  • [Rain] lashed their faces as they came around the side of the big house and as they picked their way through the mud of a flattened rose garden they had to raise their arms against it, like boxers warding off blows.
  • She wore her long, dark hair like a headache, savagely twisted up and speared.