Prose and poetry

I love the language that Hammett uses. For example, he writes “I set fire to a cigarette.”
Normally, one would say, “I lit a cigarette.” Lit is a form of light, which has positive, even biblical connotations. Setting fire implies arson. It makes the narrator sounds dangerous, destructive, even deadly. It’s just a little change in phrasing, describing an inconsequential act, but it does so much to set a mood.
“I frisked the desk” Another unusual phrasing. Searched would be the normal term. I’ve also heard rifled used in this sense. But frisked makes it intimate and personal.
simplyelle writes of the novel: “While reading I can imagine everything that is going on. I can picture the scenery, the people, and even the smells.”
By picking just the right words, Hammett packs a lot of punch with minimal language. It’s poetic in its economy.

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6 Responses to Prose and poetry

  1. Mo says:

    I understand your this completely because Hammett’s writing brings to mind a whole new level of being immersed in the story. I do have to point out that you really know your stuff when it comes to how the words “set fire” opposed to “lit” make the story read in different moods. I also like your images!

  2. Brenna says:

    I actually noticed this too! I really enjoyed the vernacular of the novel; it even had abbreviations that I’ve since incorporated into my daily vocabulary, such as “Frisco” for San Francisco or “proposish” for proposition. I already thought this was a really cool time frame, but reading the novel, and especially the dialogue among characters, really makes me think it’d be cool to live in this time period.

    • phb256 says:

      Cool… I wish I could talk like I was in a detective novel, but even if I could come up with the right phrases I probably couldn’t do it with a straight face.

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