The Power of Fragments
Fragments can be powerful. Good tools. Sometimes.
Sorry. If you expect me to write about the themes in the novel, you are barking up the wrong tree. (No offensive. A joke.) This post is not going to talk about the themes or the story plot; instead, I am going to analyze The Memory of Love from the perspective of linguistics. Here, by the title of the post “fragments” I mean sentence fragments, which fail to become a sentence in that they cannot stand by themselves. Theoretically speaking, sentence segments are grammatically incorrect and should not appear in academic writings, but they can be used wisely in novels. The Memory of Love. One good example.
When I started to read the novel, I have already noticed this different syntactic manipulation, which is not seen so often in the previous novels we read. I started to ponder on why Aminatta does so. As far as I observe, the sentence fragments can be roughly put into several categories. They serve for some purposes:
(1) Noun fragments create a whole image of a place, a person quickly. At the same time, because of the lack of verbs, the readers have to put the nouns together on their own, i.e. the readers have even more space of imagination. For example, “Her hand on my shoulder. My hand at her waist. […] Between our bodies, a few inches of warm air” (42). Different readers may have different images or interpretations. One may argue that Saffia does more than laying her hands still. She may change the place she put her hand a little bit, creating a more dramatic scene.
(2) Creating dramatic, sudden effect, or unexpected stops. For example, “A knock on the door” (46). This technique seems to be useful when writing a thriller. A knock is a momentary event. If the author tells the readers who, how the door is knocked, the unexpected knock is no longer surprising but lame.
(3) Re-emphasizing the key element in the previous sentence. “He was the kind of person they call the life and soul of the party. Life and soul. Life and soul” (41). This example is the best one I can find because the author even italicizes the second repetition of the nouns. This quote also reminds me of the writing tradition in ancient epics, which use tons of repetitions to emphasize things again and again.
(4) Creating tension or silence. “Not a word all the way home. […] A surreptitious slap on the back as we parted” (43). This quote successfully creates the tension between Elias and Julius (at least, for Elias it is a hard time). This quote assimilates the moments when a professor slaps the door or the moments a mother is scolding at her children. That kind of silence. And tension.
(5) The most important of all, to create brief flashbacks, which echoes the title of the book The Memory of Love. In fact, besides sentence fragments, I also find that Aminatta uses short sentences (with only a subject and a verb) a lot. I think this should have something to do with the way people think. When people rummaging moments in the memory, it is very hard to make a sentence along. The memory will come back like slide shows. Hence, one of the best way to portray memory is to chop things into small portions and present them respectively. In the case of writing, fragments serves as fleeting slide shows often seen in movies.
Manipulating syntactic structure is useful when writing novels, especially when the author is trying to deliver the readers more information. What do you think? Do I make sense? Fragments! Powerful?
PS. I also think this technique makes the novel sound more colloquial. This is an evident point, so I just put a note here.