Eight From Four Hundred

I’m an admirer of Vendela Vida‘s last two novels, 2007’s Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name and her new The Lovers, for the same reasons—she writes concretely about the urge to escape, an emotion that often gets described with weak rhetorical handwaving, and she writes beautifully simple sentences. In an interview with the Rumpus, she talks about how she arrived at her spare style, which in part was a product of her first attempt at a novel, written without a support system. “I spent years writing this 400-page book and didn’t show anybody it in the process,” she says. “In the end, I was only interested in about eight pages of it, which I salvaged.”

More on how and why she pares down her prose:

I overwrite at first. Whenever I start a book, I think, This is going to be my long book, and by the time I take out all the extra words, I think, Well, the next one is definitely going to be my big book. But I think I’m finally at peace with the fact that I like writing shorter novels. Those are the kind of novels that I love reading….

I definitely sculpt all the extra words out of a sentence. I think every sentence I write starts with about 4 or 5 more words than end up in it.

I had a professor in college who used to talk about how you should keep a jar on your desk and put a quarter in it for every word you took out of your prose. I always think about that when I’m writing, how the words are actually worth something; it’s worth something to throw the extraneous words away.

The trouble with writers like Vida is that quoting them out of context feels pointless—a paragraph from The Lovers will inevitably seem unimpressive here. With books like hers, simplicity builds on simplicity. So when a sentence like, “She waited but no one came” arrives late in the book, it’s flat in itself but devastating in the wake of what’s come before.

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