We had a fun little ‘parlour game’ in our Bibliography class the other day (yes, parlour game, not doing much to disabuse people of the Oxford-students-are-upper-class myth, is it…) – we were discussing, amongst other things, the idea of intrinsic literary merit. Were certain books valued above others because they were, simply, better – and did this superiority reveal itself throughout every sentence of the work?
And so we were set a little test. We had 10 quotations – some are from Nobel Prize winner Ernest Hemingway, some are from Mickey Spillane. If, like me, you’ve never heard of Mr. Spillane, he is a fairly critically savaged American crime writer – ‘sex and slaughter for a quarter’. I.e. a great writer and a poor writer – supposedly. Can you identify (WITHOUT doing a Google search or similar) which of the following are by EH and which by MS? More to the point, dare you put your answers in the comments? If it’s a comfort, I only got 4 out of 10. Having never read a word of either.
It’s not half-half (I made that mistake) but I won’t tell you which way it leans. Go! Have a go, it’ll be fun. I’ll post a doughnut to anybody who gets all 10 without cheating.
1. ‘She was builty with curves like the hull of a racing yacht, and you missed none of it with that wool jersey.’
2. ‘ “You bitch,” he said. “You rich bitch. That’s poetry.” ‘
3. ‘In there was my best friend lying on the floor dead. The body. Now I could call it that. Yesterday it was Jack Williams, the guy that shared the same mud bed with me through two years of warfare in the stinking slime of the jungle.’
4. ‘ “Love is a dunghill,” said Harry. “And I’m the cock that gets on it to crow.” ‘
5. ‘The majoy did not marry her in the spring, or any other time. Luz never got an answer to the letter to Chicago about it. A short time after he contract gonorrhea from a sales girl in a Loop department store while riding in a taxicab through Lincoln Park.’
6. ‘”They’re a funny fish,’ I told him. ‘They aren’t here until they come.”‘
7. ‘He started to walk down the dock looking longer than a day without breakfast.’
8. ‘ “How c-could you?” she gasped.
‘I only had a moment before talking to a corpse, but I got it in.
‘ “It was easy,” I said.’
9. ‘I got him forward onto his knees and had both thumbs well in behind his talk-box, and I bent the whole thing back until she cracked. Don’t think you can’t hear it crack either.’
10. ‘My hand smashed into bone and flesh and with the meaty impact I could smell the blood and hear the gagging intake of his breath. He grabbed, his arms like great claws. He just held on and I knew if I couldn’t break him loose he could kill me.’