“Words have music and if you are a musician you will write to hear them” – E.L. Doctorow
Rhythm isn’t the sole preserve of poets or musicians – prose writers can also be lyrical if we write with our ear as well as our hand. This short passage from John McGahern’s memoir shows what can be achieved with repetition and a feel for how words sound together. John McGahern is one of the most important novelists and short story writers that came out of Ireland at the end of the 20th century. His last two books That They May Face the Rising Sun (a novel) and Memoir (written after he was diagnosed with cancer) are written with a simple melodic beauty.
Heaven was in the sky. My mother spoke to me of heaven as concretely and with as much love as she named the wild flowers. Above us the sun of heaven shone. Beyond the sun was the gate of heaven.
But rhtymn doesn’t have to be serene. You can use it to jag up the senses, overthrow conventions. There’s an altogether different tempo playing in this description of Los Angeles in Martin Amis’ Money.
You walk left, you walk right, you are a bank rat on a busy river. This restaurant serves no drink, this one serves no meat, this one serves no heterosexuals. You can get your chimp shampooed, you can get your dick tattooed, twenty-four hour, but can you get lunch?
What is it: modern jazz, punk? I’m thinking more along the lines of a perspiring Jacques Brel with a glass in his hand.