Thursday, May 12, 2011

Rebarbative

Just finished Iris Murdoch's The Bell. As usual I found her characters tedious and repellent and their situations ridiculous and uninteresting and yet - as usual - I felt compelled to keep reading to the bitter end. I even find myself thinking about them still, just as I remember from time to time that bizarrely obsessive character in her The Sea, The Sea. The sign of a great writer. My one major complaint with this book: the use of the word 'rebarbative.' If she used it once, she used it seven times. Did she not notice? Did her editor not notice? Was it deliberate? The second time she used it I thought to myself, "there's that word again." By about the fifth time I thought "if I see that bloody word again I'll scream!" But sure enough it showed up a few more times, to my extreme annoyance. Conclusion: the word 'rebarbative' is, in itself, rebarbative. Is there a term for that, I wonder. Perhaps a form of onomatopoeia?

6 comments:

Thomas said...

The first time the word is used, Toby has just learned it and so is using it -- or overusing it -- with the childlike enthusiasm of one relishing a new, complex term. If memory serves me right, the word keeps cropping up whenever we are in Toby's consciousness, so yes, I think Murdoch overuses it deliberately as a way of distinguishing Toby's relatively immature point of view.
Tom

James said...

Thanks Tom. Its impressive that the blogger, who claims to be a writer, missed this obvious point. Perhaps the reason she doesn't enjoy Iris Murdoch's books is that she misses/misunderstands other subtle aspects of her writing

OR Melling said...

Thanks, James. The blogger doesn't "claim" to be a writer. The blogger is a writer. And for a reader, you seem to have missed the phrase "sign of a great writer" in my post? And while Tom's explanation for the overuse of an unusual word is possibly correct (I'm not convinced), I would say that there are better ways to show a character's immature POV.

OR Melling said...

By the way, you completely missed the "subtle aspects" of my comments. I love Iris Murdoch's books. What I said is that I find her 'people' tedious and repellent - as opposed to, say, Jane Austen's main characters whom I find attractive - and Murdoch's story-lines are equally uninteresting to me - as opposed to, say, Don De Lillo's plot-lines - yet still I am compelled to read her. Sign of a great writer.

paullamb said...

The whole drift of this conversation is rebarbative. But I think Thomas is right. I found it playful.

Iris Murdoch is my favorite novelist (while Philip Roth is my favorite writer -- though many people find him rebarbative).

OR Melling said...

Conversation? I thought it was a row. But, hmm, what are you saying here? Why 'novelist' for one and 'writer' for t'other? And I still don't agree with Thomas. I rarely have trouble telling when an author is being playful but perhaps it was just that I was so bored by the story (though, as always with Murdoch, I felt compelled to finish it).