… is sparked off by spotting an exclamation mark where a question would normally be expected. Or actually, by the vacuousness of the contents of the welcoming message found when booking into his hotel room. All this is part of one of John le Carré’s main characters’ interior monologue at the start of his novel A Delicate Truth (2013).
Unfortunately for my purposes – the paper which I am presenting at the Prescriptivism Conference in Vigo next week – this is the only metalinguistic comment that does not refer to accent, or “voice” as le Carré refers to it.
Practically all characters in the novel are defined in terms of their accents: “his carefully nurtured Glaswegian accent”, “his gentle Welsh lilt”, “drawling in upper-end English of the very best sort”, “a forthright British voice, educated, one of us”, “the officer-class voice”, “she sounded like an Essex schoolmistress”, “her voice not Welsh but old-fashioned fighting Irish”, his “own voice, but without its Foreign Office polish”: social class is clearly an issue in this novel.
But alas, no references to grammatical shibboleths or other usage problems that I might have added to my list of metalinguistic comments in English literature. Still, what I did find in this novel confirms le Carré’s interest in language commentary as a means of setting down his characters.