Last night, I finished reading Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl for the first time. Naturally, I loved it! I'd read two of his books previously (Aku-Aku and Fatu-Hiva) and enjoyed them too, so loving Kon-Tiki came as no surprise. Not only has he had fascinating adventures to write about, but Heyerdahl has a fantastic way with words--I think he's my second-favorite writer in that respect, after Raymond Chandler. But whereas Chandler has a uniquely skewed and metaphorical style, Heyerdahl is conversational while being creative. He writes about the everyday things, like whether or not he got tired of drinking coconut milk. Yet he keeps things fresh, using precisely the right words and descriptions. Here's one of my favorite passages from Kon-Tiki to illustrate what I mean:
"Perhaps we did the shark an injustice, but we suspected it of evil intentions and rammed a harpoon into its skull." (Heyerdahl, Thor. Kon-Tiki. New York: Pocket Books, 1984. Pg. 120).
See what I mean? Sharks are something they encountered pretty regularly while floating about in the Pacific on a balsa raft, but he doesn't describe this encounter in a bland way. He could have just written, "A shark scared us, so we stabbed it with a harpoon." That is what happened, after all. But no, he explains amusingly that they "suspected it of evil intentions," as if it was a stranger lurking in a dark alley. Then he quits being prosey and cuts to the chase with "rammed a harpoon into its skull," which reads so quickly and violently that you can almost feel that those are your muscles tensing as you strike at this toothy villain with your pointy stick.
Oh, to write that well! Sometime I'll share some Raymond Chandler with you to show you what I mean when I call him 'uniquely skewed and metaphorical'...
(Originally posted on Hamlette's Soliloquy on Sept. 30, 2004.)