- ‘The Taker’ and Other Stories by Rubem Fonseca, translated by Clifford Landers
Open Letter, 166 pp, $15.95, November 2008, ISBN 978 1 934824 02 3
If you want to write about violence – if you want to tell it like it is – then you’re advised to keep it plain. We’re conditioned to think that real horror should be described as succinctly as possible, since superfluous words only distract from the act itself. Words are so often digressive that inserting them where they’re not wanted can be seen as evidence of a lack of moral seriousness, a bourgeois leavening of what can’t be stomached. Accounts of violence, in fiction and in life, tend to the flat, the controlled, the unflinching. Crime novels and police reports and news bulletins have their conventions too, and they all borrow their rhetoric from each other: the who, where, when, what; the calibre of the weapon and the dimensions of the wound. They make up for the slipperiness of words with a superabundance of detail. In these respects, the documentary idiom is very close to lying: terseness is a strategy to avoid inadvertently saying what might not seem true, and a barrage of facts makes a story difficult to contest. But then liars and reporters both have a vested interest in making their account believable.
The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.