October 7, 2010

My Latest Novel

I just finished my second Philippa Gregory book in a little over a week. I’ve really enjoyed this author because she writes historical fiction about 16th-century England. The books I’ve read are told from first-person, which makes these historical books feel more up-to-date and authentic. The two books I’ve read are about the juicy, turbulent times of King Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth, making for hard-to-put-down stories. However, I have two problems with her writing: She does not use commas appropriately, and she doesn’t use proper English grammar many times.

When two sentences are joined by a conjunction (e.g., and, but, so) to form one sentence, the sentence warrants a comma before the conjunction. I realize this observation may be more for her editor, but it distracts from her great storytelling ability. I’ve edited too much writing (my own and others’) to be able to ignore repeated, blatant errors. There are other times she omits necessary commas, but the comma before a conjunction is my biggest beef.

From The Other Boleyn Girl on page 177, Gregory writes, “From the leads of the castle we could see the beacon bonfires burning all the way to London and the city itself was red against the night sky with fires at every street corner and men spit-roasting carcasses of beef and lamb.” It’s a lengthy sentence that longs for a comma or two. Without a doubt a comma is needed between the two independent clauses that are joined by a conjunction—“…to London, and the city itself….” I would not draw attention to her aversion of commas if it didn’t happen so often and repeatedly throughout the novel. Her sentences are sometimes long and the paragraphs long, so the reader needs commas to help delineate the text and aid in comprehension.

My second problem is a little pickier. Since people usually don’t speak with correct grammar, it’s harder to notice when an author doesn’t use a possessive pronoun before a gerund or “who” when “whom” is required. Before I lose the interest of all you grammar-phobes, here’s a simple example to explain the use of a possessive pronoun before a gerund.

Betty really wanted to go to the party, and I didn’t want my going to the game to mess up her plans.

Now, most people do not speak this way, though it’s correct grammatically. Most people say, “…I didn’t want me going to the game….” If the possessive pronoun sounds funny to your ears, try replacing the gerund “going” with an appropriate, recognizable-sounding noun, such as “trip.” I don’t think anyone would say, “…I didn’t want me trip to the game….” Keep in mind a gerund is the present-progressive form of a verb (i.e., an -ing word) being used as a noun.

Because this novel is about 16th-century England, I feel like her narrator and other characters would use correct English. So her continued misuse of grammar doesn’t feel authentic for the characters; it feels more like she as the author doesn’t know the correct grammar. Perhaps she needs a better editor.

1 comment:

  1. I just read a Marian Keyes (Irish author) book and it had the same problem problem of the proper English grammar. It was driving me nuts and I've never noticed this on her other books.