The noise of insects sizzled in the air…

Word count: 318 words

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 trio of effective metaphors from novelist Tan Twan Eng.

Malaysian writer Tan Twan Eng had his first novel, The Gift of Rain, long-listed for the Man Booker prize. He received the same distinction for his second, The Garden of Evening Mists, and, in fact, won the Man Asian Literary prize for it. While I’m not sure I can support the lauding of all the critics  —  I’ve found Eng’s characters thin and a titch unbelievable — I agree with their assessment that Eng’s writing is truly remarkable.

As I was reading The Garden of Evening Mists I found myself stopping to take notes so frequently that I feared writer’s cramp. Here are three of his images that moved me the most:

  • The noise of insects sizzled in the air, like fat in a smoking wok.
  • The road had been widened considerably since I last used it, the sharper turns smoothed out, but there were too many cars and tour buses, too many incontinent lorries leaking gravel and cement as they made their way to another construction site in the highlands. 
  • In the shallows, a grey heron cocked its head at me, one leg poised in the air, like the hand of a pianist who had forgotten the notes to his music. 

Aren’t those all exquisite images? I’ve spent enough time in the tropics to know the sound of the insects. Eng’s idea to compare them to fat in a wok neatly adds an Asian twist to the simile. I also enjoy the way he uses the adjective “incontinent” to modify the word “lorries.”  Imagine a truck peeing gravel. Unforgettable! Finally, I admire the way he compares the quizzical stance of the heron to a pianist who has forgotten the notes of his music. Fearfully evocative.

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