Are some novels just too long?
In a previous post I researched one star reviews, and looked for two long books in particular: Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84 and Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. http://laura-moe.blogspot.com/2014/09/are-one-star-reviews-fair.html The biggest negative criticism lies in their length. Ian McEwan, a master of short novels such as Atonement, believes “very few long ones earn their length.”
I both agree and disagree. 1Q84 could have ended after Book Two and I would have been satisfied with the tale. Gutting about 150 pages out of the center of Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers would have improved the narrative for me. And yet I was held captive throughout Donna Tarrt’s 771 page The Goldfinch and Larry McMurty’s nearly 900 page Lonesome Dove.
My former student Logan P. recently finished David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, weighing in at 1100 pages. “On the surface level, it's given me the confidence to move onto much more difficult works,” he told me. “Once you've read one of the longest books ever written not much seems too difficult. And the book is absolutely packed with information on everything from higher-math concepts (it actually helped with my calculus class) to linguistics to how Alcoholics Anonymous functions. More than anything else, Wallace has a way with the human condition, from the highs to the lows to everything in between, and he's not afraid to discuss it”.
When I asked Logan if the book could have been shorter, he replied, “Yes and no. There are many parts that don't add anything to the plot or character development and just stagnate the book as a whole, yet the, "pointless", stagnating parts add to the themes and the book's purpose as a whole.” Logan said the book is “stupidly long, but it's an amazing read.” He summed it up in a single sentence; everyone is addicted to something, from their television to drugs to their love for their country, and it all ends up being a self-perpetuating cycle. “To quote DFW”, Logan said, “’Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being,’ and you definitely learn more about what that means after reading Infinite Jest.”
After initially abandoning it, I “finished” One Hundred Years of Solitude by skimming and scanning the last two hundred pages, and I came away with more insight on why this novel ranks among the greats. Yes, the book is long, and the character names are nearly impossible to follow, yet after awhile I stopped trying to “understand” the book and succumbed to some of its wonders. If you are looking for a linear narrative, this is not your book. The tale reminds me of a Salvador Dali painting, where reality and dreams entwine. The book shares elements with Homer’s Odyssey and The Iliad or The Arabian Nights, parables of how history spins its wheel and lands on the same places of love, wonder, discovery, avarice, greed, brutality, and ultimately, death. One Hundred Years of Solitude begins at a time when “the world was so recent that many things lacked names” and evolves to when “science has eliminated distance.” Melquides, the gypsy, has predicted “in a short time, man will be able to see what is happening in any place in the world without leaving his own home.” Like Ray Bradbury’s post war era Fahrenheit 451, the prescience of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ s 1967 novel has come true.
Other notable quotes from the text are:
“A person doesn't die when he should but when he can.”
“The only difference today between Liberals and Conservatives is that Liberals go to mass at five o’clock and the Conservatives at eight.”
And yet the novel could have been much shorter, because as Aureliano Segundo says, “Cease, because life is short.”
So are long books worth the time and effort? The short answer is depends on the book. On a deeper level each of us brings to a book our past reading and life experiences as well as our present. Sometimes a book find you, much like Julian Carax’s book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books in Shadow of the Wind, a relatively short book at 528 pages, found Daniel Sempere.
What are some of your favorite long books, and why?