A series of essays prompted by a single sentence--from Shakespeare to Janet Malcolm, John Ruskin to Joan Didion--Suppose a Sentence explores style, voice, and language, along with the subjectivity of reading. Both an exercise in practical criticism and a set of experiments or challenges, Suppose a Sentence is a polemical and personal reflection on the art of the sentence in literature.
Essayist and critic Brian Dillon is in thrall to sentences. For a quarter of a century, he tells us in his marvelous new book, he has been collecting them, in 'the back pages of whatever notebook I happen to be using,' the way, we might add, Vladimir Nabokov collected butterflies, with analytic passion and sustained wonderment ... Mr. Dillon scorns the advocates of “plain style” who drone on about 'the perils of ‘jargon,’ all the while deaf to their own obnoxious and excluding conventions.' He likes his language knotty and challenging, and being something of a metaphysical himself ... The product of decades of close reading, Suppose a Sentence is eclectic yet tightly shaped ... Mr. Dillon’s own book is a record of successive enrapturings.
Each selection is treated with a laser-like focus — and at times an overeagerness to point out rhetorics — as Dillon allows his thoughts to spiral into wider speculation. A single sentence, he argues, can evoke an entire text ... Elsewhere, though, Dillon loosens his belt to include excerpts that are a good deal more sprawling ... If for Orwell good prose is like a windowpane, then much in Suppose a Sentence would presumably have him reaching for a duster. Dillon is thankfully more tolerant of these smudges of ambiguity ... Reducing great writers and works to a single sentence is a provocative act, but one that in an age of 280-character opinions does not feel inappropriate ... an absorbing defence of literary originality and interpretation.
The writer, essayist, and professor Brian Dillon is a superb reader of sentences ... Dillon demonstrates that reading out of love, lingering over cherished sentences, can draw out an astonishing wealth of material ... Dillon also has an eye for the strange little choices others may overlook ... So often writing is presented as if it emerged from the writer fully formed, without the intervention or guidance of anyone else, but throughout the collection Dillon is attentive to the editing process ... Dillon is a great appreciator of that vexing descriptor, style, even when it is awkward or clunky, as seen in his essay on Robert Smithson ... Dillon generally seems to be drawn to ambiguities, odd word choices, confusing pairings ... This form of scrutiny exposes the strange chemical process that underscores all writing.