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Literary Glance: Against All Odds by Danielle Steel

June 26, 2017

 

Even though I’m probably not part of Danielle Steel’s intended audience, I picked up a book of hers to see what her writing is like.  She has to be doing something right as an author, and I’d like to know what it is.

Against All Odds is a recent novel, but maybe not Danielle Steel’s most recent.  That’s tough to tell because she writes so many books.  Maybe not as many as James Patterson (but most of her books don’t have coauthors, so she’s at a slight disadvantage).

Within the first few pages of Against All Odds, there’s a noteworthy block paragraph, a description of the protagonist’s business:

Kate carried a lot of Chanel at the store, Yves Saint Laurent from Paris, and Dior from the days when Gianfranco Ferre’ designed it in the eighties and nineties.  She also had Balmain from when Oscar de la Renta had done their haute couture, and Christian Lacroix before they closed, both haute couture and ready-to-wear.  And Givenchy, from both the days of the great designer himself, and its more recent incarnations by Alexander McQueen and Ricardo Tisci.  There were designers others had forgotten, the many young designers who had died in the seventies and the eighties, and some later, at the height of their talent, Patrick Kelly and Stephen Sprouse among them.  And she sold the American brands of ready-to-wear that everyone loved, Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Oscar De la Renta, Carolina Herrera, and here and there a nameless brand that she bought not for the label, but because it had style, or gueule or chien, as the French called it.  That ephemeral something you couldn’t really describe but that made a woman look special when she wore it, if she had the guts to pull it off.  Kate also found wonderful basics like simple black coats, pea coats, expertly cut Prada, and skirts and pants and sweaters that were timeless.

I have no idea what this paragraph just said.  I mean, I understood the first page of Finnegans Wake more than I understood this list of… fashion stuff?

This isn’t the first time I’ve been puzzled by the details in books.  When I read military novels, my eyes glaze over at the pages of weapons’ descriptions.  When I read science fiction, I skim past the descriptions of how the new technology works.  When I read fantasy, I ignore the intricacies of the made up languages and maps, and spells that the authors create.  In a lot of ways, I’m probably not a good reader.

I have to give Danielle Steel credit.  She knows her fashion stuff.  At least, I think she knows her fashion stuff.  Maybe she made up some of it (but I doubt it).  If she just made up all the names, I wouldn’t know the difference, but somebody would.

Maybe it’s better to have the specific details in your story than not to have them.  Interested readers can enjoy the author’s expertise, and skimmers who just want to get to the point can move on to the next paragraph/page/chapter.  That’s what I did in this case, skim it.  And that’s what I usually do, no matter what the genre is.

When I write fiction, I tend to leave out these kinds of details and let the readers fill in the blanks themselves.  I think it’s easier for everybody that way.  The writers don’t have to do a bunch of research to get everything correct, and the reader can go straight to the good parts of the story.

But Danielle Steel probably disagrees with me.  And she’s sold a lot more books than I have.

*****

What do you think?  Do you enjoy block paragraphs of specific details?  Or do your eyes glaze over as your skim for the good stuff?

6 Comments
  1. Sorry, this was all about Danielle Steel, so skimmed the whole thing. What was the question? 🙂

  2. I laughed out loud at reading this line: “I have no idea what this paragraph just said. I mean, I understood the first page of Finnegans Wake more than I understood this list of… fashion stuff?” That’s exactly what I was thinking. I am starting to think Danielle Steele and James Patterson aren’t real people. They are just computers with recognizable names. People go into bookstores and buy the books, because they know they have heard of those authors somewhere, then they never actually read the books.

  3. Such passages are a translator’s nightmare. Usually, they include a dozen American brand names that nobody knows overseas, so what to do with them to make foreign readers understand the reference? Replace them with European brand names that no one in America knows? I have seen such escape routes, as implausible as they are.

  4. I’m usually a skimmer when it comes to very specific details. I tend to be in a rush to turn the next page and see what happens! But when I get to last few pages, that’s when I slow down. If it’s a darn good novel, I do not want it to end.

  5. I find Danielle Steele to be redundant. Once I’d read 5-10 of her novels many years ago, I realized I needed to move on. I now have a rule that each time I select a book I must pick at least one by an author I’ve never heard of. As for the details, if it’s something I can’t relate to, I glaze over and realize on the next page that I’ve not been paying attention. If that happens too many times, I put that book down and pick up the next one. Most times, too many details bog the story down for me. I don’t need to know every little thing, because part of the fun of reading is what my brain makes up along the way.

  6. I don’t think it bothered me so much when I was younger, but now… I’m too old and time is too precious to waste it reading overly descriptive paragraphs (if a book is filled with them, I tend to stop reading and move on, something I never did when I was younger). This is why I prefer watching Game of Thrones to reading it. The books were nightmarishly tedious. I did force myself through those, but I’m pretty sure a part of my soul died along the way. Never again.

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