I was reading my book last night (still Yann Martel), and I stumbled across the most artistic use of semicolons I had ever seen in my life.  I love semicolons–I think they’re like the evil stepsister of the colon, always misused and mistreated, rarely given an opportunity to shine.  In the particular story I’m reading, the outcast main character has been frantically working to build up a fortune so his daughter, the love of his life, can return to society a rich woman.  He has been struggling through 20 years of failure, poverty, and humiliation when his daughter decides to marry her outcast lover and never return to society.  Our main character is devastated; his ceaseless efforts have yielded him nothing but failure.

He looked at his daughter’s attentive face and jumped to his feet, upsetting the chair.

“Do you hear?  I had it all there; so; within reach of my hand.”

Is that not the most brilliant use of semicolons you have ever seen?  Look at the construction: five words in front and behind balanced upon a fulcrum of a single word that carries all the weight and tension of the sentence.  An ordinary writer would have used commas, or perhaps dashes, to surround that fulcrum, but by isolating the “so” with semicolons, it gives the word a real impact.  Their bottom halves curl up like the fingers of two hands raised in frustration, their periods glare like two desperate eyes, and the word held between them shouts with the wretched hopelessness of twenty years that have added up to nothing.  The punctuation of this sentence is deliberate, forceful, and dynamic.  It is absolutely beautiful.


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