A Bloody Great Shark!


Since my university days in the 80’s, I’ve kept a little notebook where I copy striking sentences from the books I’m reading. Sometimes I don’t write in it for ages, but whenever I pick it up again the language and ideas that caught my eye months or years before resonate with me again. And for a range of reasons. For example, here’s something from Julian Barnes that made me LOL.

When the film Jaws came out, there were many attempts to explain its hold over the audience. Did it draw on some primal metaphor, some archetypal dream known the world over? Did it exploit the clashing elements of land and water, feeding on our anxiety at the concept of amphibianism?

Did it relate in some way to the fact that millions of years ago our bill-bearing ancestors crawled out of the pond, and ever since we have been paralysed by the thought of a return to it? The English novelist, Kingsley Amis, considering the film and its possible interpretations, came to the following conclusion: ‘It’s about being bloody frightened of being eaten by a bloody great shark’.

Julian Barnes | A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters

One of the things that’s so brilliant in this writing is the contrast between the precise, elegant, thoughtful language of the first four and a half sentences, and the blunt down-to-earthness of the final quote. The last bit – so unexpected – is what gives the paragraph its impact. Just when we’re relaxing into the smooth and fluent language of academic analysis in the first paragraph and three quarters, Barnes pulls us up short with the ending. I’ve remembered it for years.

We can all use contrast to make our writing stick in our readers’ minds. If you surprise them by an unexpected change in style, tone or direction, the chances are they’ll notice that you’re offering something different. Challenge their expectations and they’re more likely to remember you. And your message.

I’d love to hear from you. Please tell me what you think about this quote from Julian Barnes. Did it make you LOL too?

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  1. What a fantastic snapshot of humanity in more ways than one. Well worth a lol 😉

    • Thanks, Ciara! It speaks volumes, doesn’t it?

      • Leonie Schwarzel says:

        Hi Ali,
        On reading the above I was reminded of a similar LOL moment when I read the following from a Peanuts comic strip. Some see & analyse the world in a far more complex way than others!

        Lucy Van Pelt: Aren’t the clouds beautiful? They look like big balls of cotton. I could just lie here all day and watch them drift by. If you use your imagination, you can see lots of things in the cloud’s formations. What do you think you see, Linus?

        Linus Van Pelt: Well, those clouds up there look to me look like the map of the British Honduras on the Caribbean.

        [points up]

        Linus Van Pelt: That cloud up there looks a little like the profile of Thomas Eakins, the famous painter and sculptor. And that group of clouds over there…


        Linus Van Pelt: …gives me the impression of the Stoning of Stephen. I can see the Apostle Paul standing there to one side.

        Lucy Van Pelt: Uh huh. That’s very good. What do you see in the clouds, Charlie Brown?

        Charlie Brown: Well… I was going to say I saw a duckie and a horsie, but I changed my mind.

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