Saturday, October 28, 2006

Devil and God in the Detail

There’s an English idiom that says: “The Devil is in the detail.” By this it is meant that sometimes the small things in our plans and schemes and often the things we overlook are the things that can cause serious us problems.

Pope Benedict found this out in his recent well-publicized speech. It was an incidental quotation that caught him off guard when he brought the wrath of the Muslim world down on his head. He tripped on the detail, some example that was not central to his entire address. It was only a mere footnote to his thesis.

But the devil is not always in the detail. The author, Saul Bellow says in his book Ravelstein (p2…I won’t put it in a footnote!), “I have always had a weakness for footnotes. For me a clever or a wicked footnote has redeemed many a text.”

I have just finished Kiran Desai’s Booker Prize winning novel, The Inheritance of Loss. One of the reasons why she is such a colourful and interesting writer is because of her attention to painting the fine detail.

As one of her reviewers [Gary Shteyngart] observes, “If god is in the details, Ms Desai has written a holy book. Page after page, from Harlem to the Himalayas, she captures the terror and exhilaration of being alive in this world.”

Geoff Pound

Image: Kiran Desai.