Monday 20 February 2023

Critical Euphemisms in Quotes


Robbie Millen, The Times, Dec 2021

Daring: A stream of semi-consciousness with no paragraphs or capital letters. Possibly told in one sentence.

Bold and daring: Same as above, but with added swearing.
Lyrical prose: Sunsets are described.
Dazzling prose: Too many adverbs.
Hypnotic prose: Boring.
Unflinching prose: Depressing.

Atmospheric: Nothing happens, no plot.
Propulsive: A lot happens, no atmosphere.

Hallucinatory: The author is on drugs, whole chapters make no sense.
Fragmentary: The author is on drugs, whole chapters make no sense (but at least they’re short).

Addictive: A quick read, but we’re still charging £18.99.
Accomplished: Underwhelming. Fingers crossed the next novel will be better.

High concept: Implausible plot, ignore the clunking prose.
Polyphonic: Too many narrators, confusing.

A sharp-eyed [or fearless] look at humanity: No likeable characters, the author is a sociopath.
A searing exploration of toxic masculinity: No likeable male characters, the author had a bad break-up.

A writer at the top of their game: Past it, old, about to be dropped.
Master storyteller: Writes the same novel every year, too successful to be edited.

A masterclass in storytelling: Formulaic, two-dimensional characters.

A brilliant [or exhilarating or exciting] new voice: All debut writers.
A major new talent: A writer on their second book, the first was ignored.

Epic: Editor was on maternity leave, 200 pages too long.
Immersive: Editor was on maternity leave, 100 pages too long.
Magisterial: Long, boring, pompous. Has footnotes.

Darkly funny (see also full of sly humour): Not funny.
Hilarious (or wickedly funny): Mildly amusing.

Atmospheric world-building: Tolkien rip-off; too much detail. Has maps and silly names.
Steampunk: Author couldn’t be bothered to do the research for a historical novel.

A modern feminist fantasy: Young woman falls in love with a vampire/werewolf/unicorn.
A classic feminist fantasy; Middle-aged woman falls in love with a bear.
Relatable: Over-marketed commercial fiction aimed at twentysomething women. 

Brutally candid: Memoir by an unlikeable author.

Reads like a thriller (see also gripping narrative non-fiction account): Biography or history book with no original research. No index.

An intellectual feat: Deathly prose, but admire the 100 pages of notes. Has index.

Genre-defying Science fiction, but we don’t want it stocked in the SF section of Waterstones.

Long awaited: The author took so long to write this one, no one can remember the previous volume.

Literary sensation: Book was featured on morning TV, we ran ads on the Underground.
Literary phenomenon: Featured on Radio 4, we ran ads on the Underground, still no one bought it.

The year’s most talked about book: The author acts like an idiot on Twitter.

A meditation: Rambling essay, no thesis, stuffed with extraneous, clever-me literary references.

Not for the faint-hearted: Author is obsessed with bodily fluids.

A novel that asks what it means to be... The author has boring, hectoring political views
A brilliant interrogation of... (also a merciless takedown of... and told in blistering prose) See above.

Urgent (or necessary): A book addressing the big political issues of last year, when it was commissioned.

Controversial: The author is not left-wing.

A conversation starter: Buy before the author gets cancelled and it’s withdrawn from sale.

Coming-of-age novel: Character loses virginity.
Personal awakening: Character comes out.

Enchanting (or delightful): Twee story set in a middle-class Mediterranean holiday destination.

Cult classic: Read only by pseuds. Had been out of print for good reasons.

Gothic: There’s an old house in it.

Brims with empathy: Treacly, sentimental.

Overflowing with passion: Unhinged, the author is having a nervous breakdown.

Moving: A minor character dies.
Heartbreaking: A major character dies.
Gut-wrenching: The dog dies.
Heartwarming: The sick kid gets better.

Western media narratives: It’s all lies, lies I tell’ee! Believe these Western Youtube videos instead. (Common among alt med types, says Liz Williams.)

His most personal film yet” is fast becoming shorthand for, “Sorry, mate, but this really needs an edit”. (Times, Kevin Maher, 2021)

In fiction, one’s “blandly admirable” is another’s obnoxious w***er. One’s “sympathetically flawed” is another’s irredeemable a**hole. (@jeannette_ng)

More here, and links to the rest.

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