Wanted – your favourite Dunnett descriptions

One of the delights of reading Dunnett are those marvellous one-liners and short descriptions that perfectly capture the scene or character that she is writing about. Sometimes they make you laugh out loud, sometimes they give you that perfect visual image that helps cement the moment in your mind.

In the latest issue of Whispering Gallery, the magazine of the DDRA, I mentioned that I felt that one way to try to attract new readers might be to collect some of these little fragments of linguistic magic, and when trying to convert a potential reader to point them to them to whet their literary appetites. So that’s what I intend to do here on the Dunnett Blog, and I’d like your help in doing so.

Send me your favourite quotes, not just the well-known set pieces but those almost incidental ones that enlighten our view of a character or place or critical moment in that way that only she could. I’ll collect them together and publish them here and then archive them on the main site once we have a big enough collection.

Here’s one of my favourite short ones to start you off.

“Quarrelling with the Prince of Barrow was like fighting a curtain.”

Doesn’t that just provide the perfect visual counterpoint to Lymond’s attempts to talk round the singular Phelim O’Liam Roe?

While a slightly longer one gives Will Scott the essence of just how important and burned into Lymond’s psyche is the captive lady in the tower.

My brilliant devil, my imitation queen; my past, my future, my hope of heaven and my knowledge of hell … Margaret, Countess of Lennox.

I’m looking forward to hearing your favourites.


Wanted – your favourite Dunnett descriptions — 8 Comments

  1. I love Dorothy’s use of figurative language and I have so many favourites it would be impossible to list them all. For starters, I think my most favourite is the description of the elephants’ hides in Queens’ Play which “… soothed, clean and lustrous from the water, lay calm on their great hips like the skin of the moon”. (QP Vintage p69)

    And then there is the horrid Leonard Bailey’s nose which “spread like a garlic clove” with the veins standing out “like cracklure on china”. (CM Vintage p291; RC Vintage 468)

    As for general favourite bits, in Pawn in Frankincense at the beginning of the search for Lymond’s sone Jerott asks Philippa ‘”Why in hell did you come?’ The brown eyes within the damp, dun-coloured hair inspected him narrowly. ‘Because you need a woman,’ said Philippa finally. ‘And I’m the nearest thing to it that you’re likely to get'”. (PiF Vintage p3)

    In Checkmate Lord James Stewart tells Lymond that Richard has joined the Calvinists, and Lymond advises he “shan’t induce him to re-enter the puddle of Papistry”. (CM Vintage p275)

    And of course there is THE anvil moment: “… deep within him, missing its accustomed tread, his heart paused, and gave one single stroke, as if on an anvil”. (RC Vintage 440)

    And there are squillions more!!

  2. Ahh, good selection. I had quite forgotten the Leonard Bailey one. And I do adore the young Philippa’s pronouncements – at once both innocent insight and worldly humour inherited from Kate.

  3. I also love the scene in The Disorderly Knights when Jerott asks Lymond what he misses in his life as a commander of men. Lymond replies to a somewhat stunned Jerott:
    ‘What does anyone want out of life? What kind of freak do you suppose I am? I miss books and good verse and decent talk. I miss women, to speak to, not to rape; and children, and men creating things instead of destroying them. And from the time I wake until the time I find I can’t go to sleep there is the void – the bloody void where there was no music today and none yesterday and no prospect of any tomorrow, or tomorrow, or next God-damned year.’ (DK Vintage p366)

    Dunnett’s style is evident in sentences such as “Not to every young girl is it given to enter the harem of the Sultan of Turkey and return to her homeland a virgin.” (RC Vintage p3)

    I think Dunnett’s writing excellence is mirrored in her description of Lymond playing the lute in the scene that finally reveals him as Thady Boy Ballagh:
    ‘His fingers flowed over the shining wood, plucking, snapping; dipping the phrases into acid and wiping them pure again.’ (QP Vintage p85)

  4. I agree Jennifer – “…there are squillions more.” Every year, I re-read or dip into Checkmate and from time to time Nicolo Rising. However this year, I have begun re-reading the entire Lymond series – in order. And these are two which (again) made me laugh out loud:-

    (a) Gideon expressing total exasperation with Lymond (Game of Kings) saying something like “I wish to God you’d talk in prose like other people.”

    (b) From The Ringed Castle – one of Diccon Chancellor’s talks with Lymond who says, “…….You receive the impression that I am personally ambitious. I receive the impression that you are a draper. We may both be right. …”

  5. Gideon was such an obviously nice guy, intelligent, insightful, loyal but able to see the bigger picture, a fine husband and father. I wish we could have had more of him. And yes, that is a must-have quote.

  6. The draper comment reminds me of another in Checkmate, when Lymond meets with Lord James Stewart in the draper’s shop in Dieppe. The conversation revolves around religious affiliations and Lymond is asked where his own faith stands. “‘Why?’ said Crawford with distinct querulousness. He added, ‘I thought we were discussing pourpoints’.” (CM Vintage p275) He had a wonderful way of bursting people’s figurative balloons.

    I also love the wish Lymond would “talk – just once – in prose like other people” line in The Game of Kings. Yes, Gideon was a really good character, and among the first to see Lymond’s true colours.

  7. From Disorderly Knights: “… the sky removed a man’s breath from the lip of the lung…” What an exact description! (I live in a similar climate to that of Malta, and believe me, it can be like that.)

  8. I am reading the Lymond Chronicles for the fifteenth time and enjoying them just as much as the first time. They feel like old friends. Only Dorothy can bring me to tears with one short sentence.

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