Suppose A Sentence

The Art of the Sentence in Literature. A Polemical and Personal Reflection.

In Suppose a Sentence, Brian Dillon, whom John Banville has called 'a literary flâneur in the tradition of Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin,' has written a sequel of sorts to Essayism, his roaming love letter to literature. In this new book Dillon turns his attention to the oblique and complex pleasures of the sentence. A series of essays prompted by a single sentence—from Shakespeare to Janet Malcolm, John Ruskin to Joan Didion—the book explores style, voice, and language, along with the subjectivity of reading. Both an exercise in practical criticism and a set of experiments or challenges, Suppose a Sentence is a polemical and personal reflection on the art of the sentence in literature. Whether the sentence in question is a rigorous expression of a state of vulnerability, extremity, even madness, or a carefully calibrated arrangement, Dillon examines not only how it works and why but also, in the course of the book, what the sentence once was, what it is today, and what it might become tomorrow. With this brilliant sequel of sorts to his acclaimed Essayism, Brian Dillon confirms he is one of the very best essayists at work today.


»In this delightful literary ramble, Dillon (Essayism), a creative writing professor at Queen Mary University of London, expounds upon remarkable sentences from a variety of voices in literature, past and present. . . . The well-chosen sentences themselves are worth the price of admission, but Dillon’s encyclopedic erudition and infectious joy in a skillful piece of writing are what stamp this as a treat for literary buffs.«
Publishers Weekly

»These chronologically arranged picks from the 17th century to today are the “few that shine more brightly and for the moment compose a pattern.” The author plumbs biography, autobiography, and history to add context and background, with particular attention to each author’s literary style. . . . A learned, spirited foray into what makes a sentence tick.«
Kirkus Reviews

»A marvellous new book ... a record of successive enrapturings.«
John Banville, The Wall Street Journal

»One of our most innovative and elegant nonfictioneers.«
Robert Macfarlane

»Dillon is a mournful, witty and original writer.«
Parul Sehgal, The New York Times

»Suppose a Sentence burrows deep into the foundation of prose: the humble, hardworking, endlessly malleable sentence. Dillon riffs on sentences from writers you’d expect and a few surprises (Can you spoil a book about sentences?). The result is, yes, a writer writing about writing, but it’s also a smart person breaking down why and how language works. You don’t have to be a writer to be curious about that.«

»A timely reminder of the beauty and importance of words.«
The Irish Times

»Reading Brian Dillon’s brilliant book, I was repeatedly struck – because each one of the book’s short sections is a wholly captivating demonstration of this fact – that a sentence, just a single sentence, can hold and release an event. “Close reading”, in Dillon’s hands, starts to look like a form of “close living”: a life-practice that makes an everyday value out of paying serious, open-minded attention, especially to what is hard to understand.«
Kate Briggs

»Taking as his starting point a sentence that has intrigued him for years or, in some cases, come into his ken more recently, Brian Dillon in Suppose a Sentence ranges through the centuries exploring the associations of what he observes and discovers about his object of study and its writer, through biographical anecdote, linguistic speculation, and a look at related writings. This rich and various collection resembles a beguiling, inspiriting conversation with a personable and wry intelligence who keeps you happily up late, incites you to note some follow-up reading, and opens your eyes further to the multifarious syntactical and emotional capacities of even a few joined words of English. Enjoyable and thought-provoking reading!«
Lydia Davis

»Brian Dillon is one of the true treasures of contemporary literature – a critic and essayist of unmatched style, sensitivity and purpose – and Suppose a Sentence is a book only he could have written. It’s an inspired celebration of the sentence as a self-sufficient artform, and reading it has reinvigorated my sense of the possibilities of writing itself.«
Mark O'Connell

»Dillon has brilliantly reinvented the commonplace book in this witty, erudite, and addictively readable guide to the sentences that have stayed with him over the years.«
Jenny Offill

Original Language

English, Fitzcarraldo Editions

Further Editions


Available Material

English Original


on behalf of Fitzcarraldo Editions
World excl. English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Scandinavian languages, Spanish

© Chris Dixon

Brian Dillon

Brian Dillon is a writer and critic. His books include Essayism, The Great Explosion (shortlisted for the Ondaatje Prize), Objects in This Mirror: Essays, I Am Sitting in a Room, Sanctuary, Tormented Hope: Nine Hypochondriac Lives (shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize) and In the Dark Room, which won the Irish Book Award for non-fiction. His writing has appeared in the Guardian, New York Times, London Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement, Bookforum, frieze and Artforum. He is UK editor of Cabinet magazine and Professor of Creative Writing at Queen Mary, University of London as well as Visiting Professor in Writing at the Royal College of Art.