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FYI-- Cormac McCarthy is also famous for not using quotation marks. Further, in Spanish, dialogue is not rendered in quotation marks.

I think some would argue that quotations marks are artificial and writerly, and that their omission makes the writing zippier, more fluid. I, for one, prefer writing sans quotation marks.

Academic Coach

Thanks, C. I knew my erudite pals would be helpful. Yeah, I like Cormac McCarthy and something about his style makes the lack of quotation marks more expected. Hmmmm.

Zippier and more fluid. Hmmm. The opposite of my slowed down reaction. Perhaps this is how norms are updated over time and I'm just an old shaggy bitch trying to get used to not-so-new tricks.

After all, I liked "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" much, much better than "Ulysses" (which, predictably, I found irritating.)


I second what Camicao said. Done well, I often very much enjoy the sans-quotation style, as I do with McCarthy. However, it can also seem affected, and I'd be inclined to think I'd feel that to be the case with Guterson, whom I'm not particularly fond of--despite being a Washington State native. (Though I should add that I've only read Snow Falling.)


The only book I've read of his is Snow Falling too, and I would tend to agree with Camicao and Lecturess, but then again reading your post makes me wonder. You say it irritated you and slowed you down and made you re-read and sometimes look carefully to figure out exactly what was going on (who's speaking, is that dialog or someone's thoughts, etc), and I could also imagine Gutterson looking for exactly that kind of response. Your post complaining about the lack of quotation marks, oddly enough, makes me want to read the novel to see what's going on there. I tend to like those sorts of games in a novel, though.

Academic Coach

Our Lady is well worth reading. Whether you like or dislike quotes -- although I certainly wouldn't bother if you didn't like Snow Falling. And let me say, that I like the ambiguity of the quotation mark-free version of this comment ;)

Analisa Guzman

Why would an author omit quotation marks or disregard "rules"? Simple. Poetic license. It might work well or it might not. It depends on the skill of the author...What does any rule broken mean in fiction? One would need to see what is the intended effect on the reader and what it might add to our understanding of character/plot development. I have not read the texts you are referring to so I can't comment specifically on those.

If done well, breaking the rules is what brings innovation to literature.


I cannot explain it, but I do share your frustration. I *heart* traditional punctuation.


As Analisa says, the omission of quotation marks is done for effect. That effect is almost always going to be *affect* as well.

Camicao mentioned the "zippier and more fluid" interpretation. I haven't read this book yet, but in imaginging its format, I have to ask whether there was ever a time that you were able to stop puzzling over the prose format and just enjoy the words. It would seem to me that a book that uses quotation marks functions as two sets of discourse between one set of covers -- the things being said by characters, and the things being "thought" at you by the narrator. When you get rid of the quotation marks, the reader may still be able to separate these two in her head, but the discourse of the novel becomes more uniform. Words, thoughts, descriptions all smoosh together into one stew of prose.

I'm reminded of David Lynch's *Dune*, which heavily featured characters whispering their thoughts as if they were merely very quiet bits of dialog. This move broke down the barrier between dialog and narration, too, because the thoughts often served to explain what was going on, as a narrator might. It also emphasized (though with much subtlety) the extent to which the main characters' thoughts were influencing and/or creating the world.

So, to go back to my initial observation, did the "fluid" movement between dialog and narration help you to see or feel anything particular to the story or to the experience of the characters? I suspect the story of a mystic would be hard to tell without all kinds of boundary-transgressions and subtle shifts between ways of seeing/hearing/thinking the world.

Mike Selby

No quotations marks were a literary style choice in 19th century 'artsy' novels. I had difficulty and had to stop reading COLD MOUNTAIN by Charles Frazier for this exact reason. I asked a friend of mine who is a Dickens expert, and he said it was an "artsy" trend in the 1800s. He smiled and added "But for Frazier to employ it now, well...that is just posturing!" So huge thanks to all those authors who enjoy making their work more DIFFICULT to read. Isaac Asimov is rolling in his grave.

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