Sunday, January 10, 2021

Deconstructing a Title: A Song For The Dark Times

By Claire Booth

That title made you click the link, didn’t it? Because it’s so good. So lyrical, so agonizingly perfect for this moment in time.

It’s not mine. It belongs to Ian Rankin’s latest book, which follows his now-retired Inspector Rebus as he travels to Scotland’s north to investigate a disappearance amid the internment camps used by Britain in World War II.

He said the title was inspired by phrases from German playwright Bertolt Brecht. But I think it’s Rankin’s decision to include two often excised words that makes this title work so well.

Try this:

A Song for Dark Times. Not as good.

Song for the Dark Times. Same thing.

You need the “A,” and you need the “The.” That combination is what makes the whole thing, well, sing. And in an era of paring titles down to the bare minimum, that’s part of what makes this one stand out.

The fact that he got the timing perfect doesn’t hurt, either. Rankin said he came up with the title in September 2019.

“I thought the world was going through some pretty dark times,” he said during a panel at the Bouchercon Mystery Convention, listing wildfires, Brexit, and the rise of the far right as examples. “Little did I know how dark the times were just about to get.”

He said that in October. I read the book then and tucked it away on my bookshelf. Friday, I came across it while looking for something to take my mind off the horrific mob attack at the US Capitol, all six perfect, now-even-more-timely words staring at me from the spine. Somehow ominous and hopeful at the same time.

Like how things feel to me right now. Which way will we go? I don’t know. I only hope that there’ll be more titles in the future that so perfectly capture the moment.

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