The Beauty Of Purple Prose

So, here’s the thing. I wrote a post not so long ago claiming that I’ll rarely name a book unless I can give it glowing accolades, and that’s because I don’t want to write anything less than amazing about another author’s work. I think honest reviews—positive and negative—are important, but I also think there’s a time and place for them. I read a lot of books, and let’s face it, very few of them can rock my world. So I like to be careful about what I recommend (and what I don’t recommend) through this blog.

I still stand by my words. But over the weekend I read a trilogy that actually did rock my world, so for this post I’ll be going on and on and on about the awesomeness of this book series, a series so wonderful that it truly deserves to be named. I hope you’re ready for a gushing review, because that’s what this is. Five stars doesn’t cut it—a galaxy of stars wouldn’t even do it justice. It’s simply, mind-bogglingly, that good.

To clue you in, I’m talking about The Juliette Chronicles by Tahereh Mafi.

The first book in the series, Shatter Me, has a Goodreads average of 4.04 (out of 5) from over 91,500 ratings. The second book comes in at 4.33, and the third at 4.48.  That kind of average is insanely impressive, especially considering the specifics of this series. And by ‘specifics’, I really mean the writing style. Because Tahereh Mafi literally paints pictures with her words. Her prose is so purple that it’s dripping with every shade from indigo to violet and all the others in between.


I have to make an admission here. I may be a writer, but I’m really not a huge fan of poetry. Unless it rhymes, I struggle to make sense of it. I have so much respect for people who write it and read it, but it’s just not something I’m into. Because of that, I found it rather peculiar that I loved this trilogy so much, since the prose really is almost poetic at times. It’s extremely lyrical. You can practically hear the vocal cadences as you read the words, and the sentences are so visual that they almost feel alive.

“I spent my life folded between the pages of books. In the absence of human relationships I formed bonds with paper characters. I lived love and loss through stories threaded in history; I experienced adolescence by association. My world is one interwoven web of words, stringing limb to limb, bone to sinew, thoughts and images all together. I am a being comprised of letters, a character created by sentences, a figment of imagination formed through fiction.”

You see what I mean? (That was a quote from the first book, Shatter Me, by the way). Isn’t it incredible? Sure, it’s wordy. But it’s not as if it’s, like… Well, like this:

Now that is purple prose. It’s a mouthful of waffle. (But in this instance, it’s a little funny, as well). The Juliette Chronicles are nothing like that, let me assure you.

I read these books back-to-back and I completely devoured them. I absolutely loved the writing style, purple-y or not (which is interesting, since my equally book-obsessed friend, Jodie, hated it—which just goes to show that everyone has different tastes when it comes to reading!). But it wasn’t just the words that I loved; even the storyline itself was fabulous. And the character development—oh, my, I don’t have the words to describe how amazingly that was done. But there’s one thing I’ll say about it: there are so many critiques about these books online (mostly because of the writing style), and something I read discussed how Mafi uses a technique that crosses out the main character’s real thoughts, thoughts that are true but that she doesn’t want to acknowledge. Mafi does it sort of like this and I really loved it hated it to begin with.

That was a bad a great example.

Um, okay, so I’m clearly not Tahereh Mafi (no matter how much I wish I was), so I can’t really do it anywhere near as well as she does. But the point is, the critics whined about the lack of consistency with the crossed-out thoughts, because the first book is riddled with them at the beginning, but they taper off towards the end. The second book has only about half as many strike-throughs. And the final book has none whatsoever. But that’s the beauty of the character development Mafi has constructed—because the protagonist, Juliette, has finally come to accept herself by the third book, and she doesn’t need to hide her thoughts anymore. She doesn’t have any thoughts to cross out! She is who she is, and she’s ready to take on the world as herself—or die trying. And Mafi actually shows that through her unique  writing style, not just in the words she uses, but in the words she no longer crosses out.

Does that even make sense? If it doesn’t, you’ll just have to go and read the books for yourself to see what I mean. They’re worth more than a galaxy of stars, remember?

Another thing about the series is that I think it’s either something that you’ll either completely love, or absolutely detest. There’s not much of a middle ground. You’ll either be so affected by the words that you feel inadequate as an author as a human being, and you’ll feel like you can never write breathe properly ever again. You’ll also wonder why it took you so long to discover the beauty of Mafi’s books and whether you’ll ever be able to read any other books without making unfair comparisons.

Or… You’ll give up after a few chapters because the writing is so flowery, the characters are so annoying (they develop, remember?), and the plot gets suspiciously X-Men-like towards the end of the first book. There is also a dreaded love-triangle (someone shoot me!), but I have to admit, it’s done superbly. Never before have I felt so emotionally invested in the romantic entanglements of a protagonist and the choices she has to make between two would-be suitors. One good guy, one bad guy; usually you know who to root for (and usually you know who the girl will choose in the end). But Mafi kept the intrigue alive. And, even better, there was a distinct lack of annoyed-sighing on my part since the story wasn’t solely dedicated to who Juliette would pick. The action kept moving. The plot kept thickening. The characters kept evolving. And you even get to a point where you’re unsure of whether the good guy might actually be bad, and the bad guy might actually be good.

It was just… brilliantly written. And because of that, I want to quote-bomb you for the rest of this post. I’ve copied a heap a few of my favourites so you can see for yourself what her writing is like, and just how beautiful her words are. I hope you enjoy as much as I did!

From SHATTER ME:

“The sun is an arrogant thing, always leaving the world behind when it tires of us. The moon is a loyal companion. It never leaves. It’s always there, watching, steadfast, knowing us in our light and dark moments, changing forever just as we do. Every day it’s a different version of itself. Sometimes weak and wan, sometimes strong and full of light. The moon understands what it means to be human. Uncertain. Alone. Cratered by imperfections.”


“Killing time isn’t as difficult as it sounds. I can shoot a hundred numbers through the chest and watch them bleed decimal points in the palm of my hand. I can rip the numbers off a clock and watch the hour hand tick tick tick its final tock just before I fall asleep. I can suffocate seconds just by holding my breath. I’ve been murdering minutes for hours and no one seems to mind.”


“I always wonder about raindrops. I wonder about how they’re always falling down, tripping over their own feet, breaking their legs and forgetting their parachutes as they tumble right out of the sky toward an uncertain end. It’s like someone is emptying their pockets over the earth and doesn’t seem to care where the contents fall, doesn’t seem to care that the raindrops burst when they hit the ground, that they shatter when they fall to the floor, that people curse the days the drops dare to tap on their doors.”


From UNRAVEL ME:

“Loneliness is a strange sort of thing. It creeps on you, quiet and still, sits by your side in the dark, strokes by your hair as you sleep. It wraps itself around your bones, squeezing so tight you almost can’t breathe. It leaves lies in your heart, lies next to you at night, leaches the light out of every corner. It’s a constant companion, clasping your hand only to yank you down when you’re struggling to stand up. You wake up in the morning and wonder who you are. You fail to fall asleep at night and tremble in your skin. You doubt you doubt you doubt.
do I
don’t I
should I
why won’t I
And even when you’re ready to let go. When you’re ready to break free. When you’re ready to be brand-new. Loneliness is an old friend stand beside you in the mirror, looking you in the eye, challenging you to live your life without it. You can’t find the words to fight yourself, to fight the words screaming that you’re not enough never enough never ever enough.
Loneliness is a bitter, wretched companion.
Sometimes it just won’t let go.”


“Hope. It’s like a drop of honey, a field of tulips blooming in the springtime. It’s a fresh rain, a whispered promise, a cloudless sky, the perfect punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. And it’s the only thing in the world keeping me afloat.”


“On the darkest days you have to search for a spot of brightness, on the coldest days you have to seek out a spot of warmth; on the bleakest days you have to keep your eyes onward and upward and on the saddest days you have to leave them open to let them cry. To then let them dry. To give them a chance to wash out the pain in order to see fresh and clear once again.”


“We’re running out of time,” he said.

As if time were the kind of thing you could run out of, as if it were measured into bowls that were handed to us at birth and if we ate too much or too fast or right before jumping into the water then our time would be lost, wasted, already spent.

But time is beyond our finite comprehension. It’s endless, it exists outside of us; we cannot run out of it or lose track of it or find a way to hold on to it. Time goes on even when we do not.”


“I wonder at my incapacity for easy banter, smooth conversation, empty words to fill awkward moments. I don’t have a closet filled with umms and ellipses ready to insert at the beginnings and ends of sentences. I don’t know how to be a verb, an adverb, any kind of modifier. I’m a noun through and through.”


“We don’t have to do anything at all to die. We can hide in a cupboard under the stairs our whole life and it’ll still find us. Death will show up wearing an invisible cloak and it will wave a magic wand and whisk us away when we least expect it. It will erase every trace of our existence on this earth and it will do all this work for free. It will ask for nothing in return. It will take a bow at our funeral and accept the accolades for a job well done and then it will disappear.

Living is a little more complex. There’s one thing we always have to do.

Breathe.

In and out, every single day in every hour minute and moment we must inhale whether we like it or not. Even as we plan to asphyxiate our hopes and dreams still we breathe. Even as we wither away and sell our dignity to the man on the corner we breathe. We breathe when we’re wrong, we breathe when we’re right, we breathe even as we slip off the ledge toward an early grave. It cannot be undone.

So I breathe.

I count all the steps I’ve climbed toward the noose hanging from the ceiling of my existence and I count out the number of times I’ve been stupid and I run out of numbers.”


“Synonyms know each other like old colleagues, like a set of friends who’ve seen the world together. They swap stories, reminisce about their origins and forget that though they are similar, they are entirely different, and though they share a certain set of attributes, one can never be the other. Because a quiet night is not the same as a silent one, a firm man is not the same as a steady one, and a bright light is not the same as a brilliant one because the way they wedge themselves into a sentence changes everything.”


“It’s like spending 6 months just trying to inhale. It’s like forgetting how to move your muscles and reliving every nauseous moment in your life and struggling to get all the splinters out from underneath your skin. It’s like that one time you woke up and tripped down a rabbit hole and a blond girl in a blue dress kept asking you for directions but you couldn’t tell her, you had no idea, you kept trying to speak but your throat was full of rain clouds and it’s like someone has taken the ocean and filled it with silence and dumped it all over this room.”


From IGNITE ME:

“For so many years I lived in constant terror of myself. Doubt had married my fear and moved into my mind, where it built castles and ruled kingdoms and reigned over me, bowing my will to its whispers until I was little more than an acquiescing peon, too terrified to disobey, too terrified to disagree. I had been shackled, a prisoner in my own mind.

But finally, finally, I have learned to break free.”


“And we are quotation marks, inverted and upside down, clinging to one another at the end of this life sentence. Trapped by lives we did not choose.”


“I’m not sure. But there’s something about the darkness, the stillness of this hour, I think, that creates a language of its own. There’s a strange kind of freedom in the dark; a terrifying vulnerability we allow ourselves at exactly the wrong moment, tricked by the darkness into thinking it will keep our secrets. We forget that the blackness is not a blanket; we forget that the sun will soon rise. But in the moment, at least, we feel brave enough to say things we’d never say in the light.”


“Words are like seeds, I think, planted into our hearts at a tender age. They take root in us as we grow, settling deep into our souls. The good words plant well. They flourish and find homes in our hearts. They build trunks around our spines, steadying us when we’re feeling most flimsy; planting our feet firmly when we’re feeling most unsure. But the bad words grow poorly. Our trunks infest and spoil until we are hollow and housing the interests of others and not our own. We are forced to eat the fruit those words have borne, held hostage by the branches growing arms around our necks, suffocating us to death, one word at a time.”


“Everything I want to say and everything I’ve wished to say begins to take shape, falling to the floor and scrambling upright. Paragraphs and paragraphs begin building walls around me, blocking and justifying as they find ways to fit together, linking and weaving and leaving no room for escape. And every single space between every unspoken word clambers up and into my open mouth, down my throat and into my chest, filling me with so much emptiness I think I might just float away.”


“My eyes are filling fast with tears and I blink and blink but the world is a mess and I want to laugh because all I can think is how horrible and beautiful it is, that our eyes blur the truth when we can’t bear to see it.”


And here’s a final one, and this is a particular favourite:

 

Then there are the exquisite one-liners that are so rich, so full of description, that they’re practically bleeding life:

“Heat rushes up my neck and I fall off a ladder holding a paintbrush dipped in red.” ~ Shatter Me

“I’ve searched the world for all the right words and my mouth is full of nothing.” ~ Shatter Me

“Every butterfly in the world has migrated to my stomach.” ~ Shatter Me

“Hope is a pocket of possibility. I’m holding it in my hand.” ~ Shatter Me

“He’s wrong he’s so he’s so wrong he’s more wrong than an upside-down rainbow.” ~ Shatter Me

“My words wear no parachutes as they fall out of my mouth.” ~ Shatter Me

“I clung to something like hope, to a thread of maybes and possiblys and perhapses.” ~ Unravel Me

“I wish I could put his words in my pocket just to touch them once in a while and remind myself that they exist.” ~ Unravel Me

“Nothing in this life will ever make sense to me but I can’t help but try to collect the change and hope it’s enough to pay for our mistakes.” ~ Unravel Me

“I’d rather be shot dead screaming for justice than die alone in a prison of my own making.” ~ Ignite Me

“I want a pocketful of punctuation marks to end the thoughts he’s forced into my head.” ~ Ignite Me

And finally (from Unravel Me):

Okay, so I’ve gushed a lot in this post, but I truly believe it was justifiable fan-girling. If you doubt me though, here’s a cute, quirky mini-review of the series by Epic Reads (with funny pictures!) called ‘Reasons Why We’re Obsessed With The Shatter Me Series (And You Should Be Too)’. I particularly like when they say: “Support groups need to be created for these kinds of series. The ones that have your totally real emotions surgically tied to the totally fictional lives of the people you are reading about.”

Yep, that sums it up perfectly. But don’t take my word for it. Go and read for yourself!

55 thoughts on “The Beauty Of Purple Prose

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