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.
This book is about sentences, but it is also about writers; those crafts-folk that string words together, like lanterns, across this inky, squally sea of existence. Each chapter begins with a single sentence Brian Dillon was drawn to and copied down, in notebooks over the years – 'out of a teeming sky of inscriptions, these are the few that shine more brightly' – and now offers up to us, with his singular, remarkable exploration of it ... Dillon approaches language like a child outdoors before indifference has kicked in. The writing is honest, hungry and full of wonder. We are met with variety everywhere in Dillon’s choices: writer and subject, style and length, and, most affectingly – his own views on it all ... This exceptional book is the sky after an eclipse, full of silvery words; dancing, like bright fledglings.