47. Literary Gems

Every now and then while reading I happen to stumble upon a literary gem—a phrase, sentence or paragraph of dazzling literary quality. These are the passages that make me laugh, shudder or simply sit gaping in amazement.

For example, I was reading Titus Groan a few months ago. It’s a pretentiously stylish and relentlessly bleak novel by Mervyn Peake about a gloomy castle called Gormengast and its equally gloomy inhabitants.

In reading about the crumbling maze of weathered stone that comprises Gormengast, I was stunned by this description of a castle tower:

This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from among the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing throat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow.

Everything about this literary jewel screams gloomy and depraved. The passage uses evocative words like unevenly, black, mutilated, blasphemously, echoing, voiceless and shadow to give the impression of something erratic, dark, evil, ominous and silent—which pretty much sums up the atmosphere of the novel and most of its characters.

Moving on to something more cheerful, P.G. Wodehouse is one of those rare authors who throw out literary gems with casual abandon—practically every page of Wodehouse’s writing sparkles with brilliant passages.

For example, at a moment when the terrified narrator is trying to act confident:

I laughed lightly. At least, I tried to. As a matter of fact, the thing came out more like a death rattle.

Whether bleak or uplifting, heartbreaking or hilarious, terrifying or comforting, literary gems fill my bookish heart with wonder.

What are your favorite literary gems? Let us know in the comments!

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