Sunday 21 February 2016

Accents in Stories…

Or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I may have blogged about accents and successfully delivering language in literature before. I’m not sure, but having watched Trapped last night (which is a fantastic tv programme that makes wonderful use of the Icelandic landscape and language along with English and Danish) and having recently read Mark Twain’s aforementioned book, accents are circling my mind today.
First off I should caveat this blog by saying that my experience of Finn’s adventure was probably hindered by reading from a yellowed hardback that was gifted to me in 1989 and has spent the years since aging, forgotten in a cupboard amongst other childhood trinkets. It was also hindered by the fact that I was reading – trying to read – this ancient copy, which by the way has tiny text, on a very busy, noisy bus on my commutes to and from the dreaded day job.

I wonder also whether my experience was hindered by the fact that I have never read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which by all accounts appears to come before Huckleberry Finn’s adventure. I didn’t realise that together they form a series. Should I have read about Tom Sawyer first?

You are sensing by now, I am sure, that I struggled a bit with this book. Being an avid reader and, of course, a book reviewer, this struggling was somewhat of a shock to the system, but struggle I did.

The author’s explanatory note advises the reader that a number of dialects are used in the book: “the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the ordinary ‘Pike-County’ dialect; and four modified varieties of this last”.

Unfortunately I am not really sure what any of those should sound like, and so this book has sounded in my head like a terribly bad day where Deliverance met Smokey Robinson and every bandit from anywhere west. The consequence is that much of Finn’s wile and charm was lost on me because of my inability to communicate with him on any real level.

The story has fantastic moments of cunning, humour and downright cheek, and I feel as though I have missed out on a great experience. I will have to put it on my list for a re-read and make sure I read in a place that allows me full, uninterrupted concentration on these adventures, and I will read them in order lest spending time with Tom first makes for a more beneficial experience.

Accents in books are always going to be a tricky thing and having read this book I see why – if your reader doesn’t know in the first place what you intend your accent to sound like then they make their own interpretation, and a poor or distracting interpretation can have a detrimental effect on their enjoyment and understanding of your work.

How do you successfully write an accent into literature? That is a blog for another day but is certainly something that shall occupy my thoughts for a time. Brave is the author who wholeheartedly commits to this endeavour, says I.

Elloise Hopkins.

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