Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Present Tense

Yesterday I was browsing in Smith's on Sheffield station and my eye was caught by a promising book title: Autumn Killing by Mons Kallentoft. I hadn't read anything by the author before, but when I'd scanned the blurb, I felt inclined to buy it. I love Nordic crime and this was set in Sweden, one of my favourite countries. I'd even driven through the provincial town that the novel's set in. I opened it to get a flavour of the writing - and my heart sank. It was written in the present tense. Back it went on the shelf. There is something about the present tense that immediately puts me off, though funnily enough I don't mind it so much in short stories and have even written a couple of short stories in the present tense myself. I've been wondering why I find it such a turn off in a novel and I think it is because it seems so artificial. It is meant to convey a sense of the action unfolding before our eyes, but actually it seems to draw attention to the fact that this stuff is all made up. Probably one gets used to it, if one persevers, but there is a barrier to be overcome and I don't have time for that when I am making a snap decision in a book shop. I find the past tense more convincing and authoritative: something happened and now I am being told about it. I'd be interested to know what other people think. How many really great novels have been written in the present tense? There are bound to be some, but off hand I can't think of one.

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