The Long and Short of It
While there’s a special kind of magic to the perfectly balanced novella, and while most of my fiction reading is made up of average length books, my heart has always belonged to the loose baggy monsters. When I arrive at the library to pick up my holds, my heart will get a special little thrill when I see a massive novel waiting on the shelf for me; since I don’t usually notice the page count when I place a book on reserve, it’s always a pleasant surprise. I love these long books because I can surrender myself to an author, knowing that I’ll be in her world for much longer than an afternoon tea break. There’s just something deeply satisfying about knowing characters as they change and grow, watching them hit different life stages, just as you do your actual friends. (This is the same kind of magic that makes a marvelous series, like Laurie King’s Mary Russell books, such a thrilling find.) And when an author has the space to lavish attention on even the most minor of characters, it makes it feel as if I’m strolling along with the characters down the streets of whatever place they happen to reside. I even enjoy it when narrators go off on random philosophical asides; it reminds me of conversations you have with friends at college at three am when you’ve both had way too much coffee but have stumbled upon the meaning of life. And there’s something so comforting about holding a book and feeling that you still have the majority of it left to go, that you won’t be ripped from the cocoon for a while longer yet. It’s just so much easier to suspend my disbelief, my knowledge that this is fiction, even my awareness that I’m Eva, sitting in the twenty-first century, reading, when I have a sprawling novel in my lap. I find myself reading the way I did as a child, which is to say I lose my critical thinking and just exist in the book.
Of course, long books (which I tend to think of as five hundred pages or more) tend to be more common amongst older authors, the ones we think of as classics. I have a tendency to get along with nineteenth century authors, which probably aids my love of the style. But I don’t think massive epics are limited to the past; I loved A Suitable Boy, all fourteen hundred or so pages of which Vikram Seth published in 1993. On a slightly smaller scale, I also adored every page of Byatt’s The Children’s Book, which in paperback comes to almost nine hundred of them. While the door stopper approach to books might not be as common nowadays, I’m glad that the style hasn’t completely died out.
All of this assumes that the book appeals to me! Indeed, I can think of few things worse than loathing a book and realising I have seven hundred pages left. Fortunately, only one instance of this actually comes to mind for me (The Count of Monte Cristo, if you’re curious). So either I’ve had good luck or the kind of authors who are longwinded are usually the kind of authors who complement my reading style. As it is, I can think of nothing more delightful than curling up with a pot of tea and a novel taller than the pot!
Ironically, it seems my love letter to long novels is quite brief; I think I’m still spent from yesterday’s post. Which leads me to the request part of this post! I haven’t read very many huge novels this year, and I’m craving a few. So please suggest away your favourite fiction, either contemporary or classic, that are around five hundred pages or more (bonus points if they hit the thousand page threshold). And as always, I want to know your opinion: is your visceral reaction to chunksters one of delight or nervousness? Have you had any bad experiences with them in the past? Do you seek them out intentionally? And for you short fiction fans, don’t worry! I do plan to write a post in praise of novellas at some point; knowing me, it will probably end up as long as one. ;)