One of my favorite books of 2014 was All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, so I've been pretty stoked about how much love the World War II novel's been getting from The Millions recently. (You can read my review of it here.)
It started in December, when the site ran a Doerr's Year in Reading. Then, a couple weeks ago, The Millions considered its US cover version the UK version (along with several other novels). For the record, I much prefer the US version. Last week, Michael Bourne wrote an entire essay based on a single line of the novel because, while gorgeous, it was an unexpected bestseller. Bourne posits that Doerr's "masterful" use of language made it attractive to a wider audience than anyone predicted it would. His sample sentence:
Cars splash along the streets, and snowmelt drums through the runnels; she can hear snowflakes tick and patter through the trees.
This week, Bourne returned with a theory that a sentence selected far enough into the book to be random but early enough to still be in the "rising action" phase could offer a peek at the author's style. Enter the Page 40 Test, in which he selected the first sentence of the fifth paragraph on page 40 of a number of books. The test is unscientific to be sure, but Bourne produces a number of examples that display the author's voice in a way that'd be difficult to discern in the course of a normal reading.
I did it today with a random novel I picked up off my shelf, The Namesake, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I came up with:
"Go on Gogol, take something," Dilip Nandi says, drawing the plate close.
What do I learn from this? I can see the characters are Indian, though one has a strange name. One is reluctant, the other loving. They are close in proximity, but possibly also in relationship. There's more, but it's hard to separate from what I know of the book already.
Of course, fiction is more than the sum of its parts, as the quote above suggests. But maybe it's not much more. Maybe there's more storytelling baked into the prose itself than any of us realizes.
What's on page 40 of your favorite book?