Dry Narration

Lauren Gurfein, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

McPhee's style of writing, as we have discussed, is fairly straightforward and fairly emotionless. This seems to be an effective technique to create an objective narrator, allowing the reader to asses his or her own opinions about the exoticism of the island, or sympathy to the characters. It seems, however, this "objective voice" becomes more of a "dry narration" when he delves into minor details and obscure nuances.

For example: After pages of telling us about matters ranging from the shellfish the McNeilles ate to the pheasant population of Colonsay, McPhee continues with,

The McNeills collect and burn a great deal of driftwood, to save coal. In winter, they go to the tidal pools of the Ardshkenish Peninsula and gather winkles, which they can ship to the mainland and sell for two pounds a hundred-weight. There are about seven thousand winkles in a hundredweight. On evena casual walk along the shore, Donald's eyes are always alert for a find of any sort. One day when we made a circuit of Ardskenish together, he came back with a boat hook, a large basket, a scrub brush, a stainless steel bolt, a Norwegian plastic fishing float the size of a big balloon, and perhaps a dozen grapefruit-size aluminum floats of the type that fishing boat uses to support a net. The floats bring two pounds a hundredweight. At home, the McNeills waste nothing. When their old steel teapot develops a leak, Donald plugs up the hole with a wood screw. I once picked up the teapot and looked inside. The points of fourteen screws intruded.

Does McPhee take this plain style of writing too far as to slow down the pace and bore the reader?

Do these obscure details add to the charm of the characters and the island?


Victorian Web Overview John McPhee Victorian courses

April 2002