I so can read long books.

Holidays! Bliss! Time to read. And uninterrupted time, which you need to get into a long novel.

Now I don’t normally go in for long books (see my review of The Goldfinch).

Wherefrom stems my prejudice? Well, I think they can often be edited more closely. They leave little to the imagination. Popular fiction novels are often long. Nothing can be left unsaid, metaphors may be used but definitely have to be explained, we are told rather than shown characters’ personalities and foibles.

Am I a book snob? Yes. (But I’m not alone. Look here and here [though I’m not too sure this one supports my thesis but it’s on book snobbery] and here – this blogger looks like reading books I’d like.) OK, my prejudice is superficial.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton actually had more pages than The Goldfinch, but it definitely didn’t feel like it. The story fairly barrelled along. Intrigue, mystery, stolen identities, reinvention of self, murder, blackmail. Funnily enough, we are told, repeatedly, about each characters’ personality but it fits in the narrative style and is intellectually/artistically/humorously done.

But what a rollicking, convoluted tale! I love how different characters had different pieces of the story(ies) and different perspectives. No one perspective was necessarily true, or full, or accurate. I love how the novel was stories within stories. I love how it gave me some insight into the early settlement of NZ. Did you know they had a gold rush? (And that I’ve recently fallen in love with NZ?) I love how the narrator intruded in the telling when a character was being too obscure.

The mystery culminates in a court case with a very clever lawyer (on the side who the reader is barracking for) and brought to mind To Kill a Mockingbird. (OK, maybe that was just me. I read the words aloud as if it where a script and summoned the tones of Atticus Finch/Gregory Peck.) I think I only skimmed a couple of pages – on the power of the planets and a description of the landscape.

The language and narrative tone are just like a novel from the mid 1800s but not in a poor pastiche manner. I found the style enchanting and made the setting more realistic. And the characters and tone definitely didn’t have a modern sensibility which always grates on me when authors write a novel set in the past but fail to capture the mores of the time.

Apparently the structure is very clever. Each part is half the length of the preceding part, until the last part is less than a page. Even more ingenious, each character is assigned a zodiac or a heavenly body and each part of the book has astronomical charts. Meh, whatever. This added nothing for me. Obviously I am not clever enough for these conceits. Actually, structure of novels has never been something I’ve paid attention to or felt warrant analysis. I love novels that alternate between times or characters but structure as an intellectual exercise seems like a task for a creative writing course.

So would I recommend this? Well, you know I am always loathe to recommend books. You may hate it. I enjoyed it. It’s not all happy endings but not so deep and scarring as the last book I read (The Enchanted). In fact a nice antithesis. And it has interesting characters, a great story and a novel setting. When I finished it I hoped it would make its way onto our screens, and was glad to find out it is being made into a TV miniseries for which the storyline would be more suited.

See a parallel between my prejudice for long novels and the poor cousin of film, the miniseries? Remember when Bryce Courtney’s novels were all made into miniseries? Enough said.

Do you have a prejudice against a certain format? Are you a book or audio-visual snob?

(Oh, and as part of my decluttering, I left my copy down the snow on an information display with a little note inviting someone to read it. Went back a few days later – the book was gone. Hope the lucky collector enjoyed it.)

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3 thoughts on “I so can read long books.

  1. Love your review! I think the structure and the literary devices sound like they would add to the experience. Now that I know to look for them! Otherwise I might not have noticed.

  2. Same here – I don’t mind long books if the story is worthwhile. I doubt I would’ve noticed the sections growing smaller by half. And I didn’t know NZ had a gold rush. Off to google!

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