I’ve read exactly one novel in my life that I thought had a good reason for not putting quotation marks around its dialogue, and that was Jose Saramago’s Blindness. That’s the book where a mysterious plague makes everyone blind except for one woman, so it totally makes sense not to put quotes around dialogue there. The unattributed dialogue adds to the confusion, mystery and fear that would infest a world without sight, and it makes the reader feel more like a character in the story.
But unless your novel has a premise that would benefit from no quotes, please, for the love of literacy, put quotes around your dialogue. If the narrator is paraphrasing what someone else said, that’s one thing. But if the narrator is, you know, quoting a character, then use the damn quotes. That’s what they’re there for.
Granted, sometimes quotes aren’t 100% necessary. But far too often, I need to re-read a sentence that doesn’t use quotes because the first time around I thought it was the narrator’s voice when in fact it was a character’s voice. I love re-reading a sentence if I feel like it was beautifully crafted, or it contains more than one layer of meaning…but I don’t like re-reading a sentence because the author was too lazy to type quotes around it.
Recently I noticed a dearth of dialogue quotes in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao, although that dearth was tiny potatoes considering how much I enjoyed the book overall. For the most part though, I’m looking at Cormac McCarthy here. Sometimes when I read his novels I wonder if he wants them to be so barren and desolate that even quotation marks cannot survive. Like the quotation marks just wither and die in the hot desert sun, or the post-apocalyptic wasteland, or the amoral Texas underworld, or wherever. And in most fonts, quotation marks do appear somewhat festive and fun, like bits of confetti. So in a sense I think I get why McCarthy wouldn’t want bits of confetti tossed around his bleak, barren worlds. But dude, even in the bleakest, most barren world, it really helps to know who’s saying what. Unless, of course, everyone’s suddenly gone blind.