Sunday, August 14, 2016

As a or Like a . . .

Many students remember learning about similes and metaphors.   Here's a definition in case you've forgotten:

    A simile, is a comparison using "like" or "as." for example:  My love is like a red, red rose  (Robert Burns)

    A metaphor is a comparison that speaks of one thing as if it were another:   The fluffy clouds were marshmallows wafting across the sky.

    Many similes and metaphors seem banal and over-used.

    I started a recent book, described on the cover as 'One of the great creations of modern thriller writing.'  (Daily Mail)   The author, Philip Kerr, has won prizes and awards and has his own page in Wikipedia.  Unfortunately, his book,  March Violets wasn't for me.   I found all the characters in 1930's Berlin to be some combination of violent, cruel, ignorant or immoral.  

    What came to my notice, and began to pull me out of the story-line on a regular basis, were the metaphors and similes in number and description of a degree I hadn't read before in one book.    Here are some examples:

    "Fatso pulled the huge brown-and-black moustache that clung  to  his curling lip like a bat on a crypt wall."  (Page 66)

    "Me, comfortable?  Like a Bauhaus chair, I am."  (Page 71)

    "It was meant to get me to climb aboard her bones like a creeper onto a trellis."  (Page 73)

    "I drove home feeling like a ventriloquist's mouth ulcer."  (Page 77)

    "Tesmer pointed a face at me in which belligerence was moulded like cornice-work on a Gothic folly."(Page 83)

    You'll notice that the preceding four examples are spread over a little more than a dozen pages.   I suppose the frequency with which they occur was what made me notice.

    And again, over the course of a few pages:

    ". . . but I hoped I had said enough to put a few ripples on his pond."  (Page 87)

    ". . . was possessed of a stomach that stuck out like a cash register."  (Page 90)   "He shook me by the hand . . . It was like holding a cucumber.  (Page 90)  "It was time to stick the nettle down his trousers."  (Page 90)

    "It made me feel about as comfortable as a trout on a marble slab,"  (Page 91)

    ". . . a nine storey building . . . looked like something a long-term prisoner might have made, given an endless supply of  matches . . ."  (Page 91)

    I found these metaphors and similes so fascinating that my writer's mind overcame my reader's and I was lost to the story.   I felt the urge to look up cornice-work on a Gothic folly and try to make the connection to someone's facial expression.   Was it a gargoyle that was being described?    The comparisons were all so fascinating and unique.   Had the writer left a '*' for himself on his working manuscript to come back and insert a simile or metaphor or had each one sprung into his mind in the course of writing?

    * My references are to the book contained in the trilogy Berlin Noir 2012.

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