Long Novels and Me

 

 

I do not take the matter of reading extremely long novels lightly. I do read long novels, but will do everything within my power to make sure that I will treasure and enjoy the many hours I will spend reading the book.

Perhaps the first long novel I read was ‘Ulysses’ by James Joyce. Of course I had already read and valued ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ and ‘The Dubliners’, but ‘Ulysses’ was supposed to be his finest so I just had to read that. I am happy I did and will never forget the adventures of Leopold Bloom and his wife Nora Barnacle during that one day in Dublin. I still have not attempted Finnegan’s Wake.

My history with George Eliot is somewhat more complicated. First I read the short ‘Silas Marner’ and really didn’t like the story about this old country weaver and the little baby daughter he adopts. I thought it was somewhat sentimental and schmaltzy. I stayed off Eliot’s novels for a few years until I read a lot of good things about her fiction. Then I read ‘Adam Bede’ and ‘Mill on the Floss’, and loved them both. So I was ready for ‘Middlemarch’ which is a bit of an undertaking. ‘Middlemarch’, the story of an unfortunate marriage, was wonderful. I consider ‘Middlemarch’ one of my very favorite novels of all time. Eliot’s portrait of the dry husband Casaubon will stay in my mind forever. Later I read the equally long ‘Daniel Deronda’ which I did not find quite as rewarding as ‘Middlemarch’.

By the time I reached Leo Tolstoy, there was no question. I absolutely had to read ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina’, both monster novels. Of course both are easily appreciated masterpieces.

Perhaps the most humorous long book I have ever read is the 800+ page entire ‘The Good Soldier Schweik’ by the Czech novelist Jaroslav Hasek. This novel, being about the ineptitude of authority figures, was right up my alley and certainly is relevant today.

As far as humor goes, ‘Don Quixote’ by Miguel de Cervantes is right up there, but ‘Don Quixote’ has both charm and humor. ‘Don Quixote’ checks in at over a 1000 pages, but the time spent reading them just flies by. I will never forget Sancho Panza and his mad boss Don Quixote.

My experience with Henry James has been inconsistent. Sometimes I really like his work, sometimes I don’t. In 2015, I finally decided to read ‘Portrait of a Lady’ which checks in at over 600 pages. I don’t classify it as one of the finest novels I’ve read, but I did really like it.

Deep River’ by current author Karl Marlantes is a long 700+ page novel that has tempted me since I consider his ‘Matterhorn’ one of the classics of recent years, but I still have not succumbed, having not read enough positive reviews yet.

The four novels that make up Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novels probably could be considered one long book, but I prefer to think of them separately.

I have not approached ‘Ducks, Newburyport’, perhaps if it is still talked about in a few years.

Other long novels I have read and treasure:

‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ by Michel Faber (834 pages)

‘An American Tragedy’ by Theodore Dreiser (934 pages)

‘The Magic Mountain’ (838 pages) and ‘Buddenbrooks’ (731 pages) by Thomas Mann

‘The Vivisector’ by Patrick White (640 pages)

‘The Man Without Qualities’ by Robert Musil (1774 pages!)

I am writing all this about long novels because I am embarking today on a 628-page novel with small print, ‘The Maias’ by José Maria Eça de Queirós. I have much appreciated three of his previous works, so now I am ready for the big one. I plan on writing a couple of articles about this novel in the upcoming weeks. Famed author Jose Saramago said of ‘The Maias’ that it is “the greatest book by Portugal’s greatest novelist”. We’ll see how that goes.

What is your favorite long novel?

 

 

20 responses to this post.

  1. I too love Quixote, Švejk, Middlemarch, Ulysses, Tolstoy, The Magic Mountain. Also The Recognitions and JR by Gaddis, Against the Day or Mason & Dixon by Pynchon, Parade’s End if you count the tetralogy as one novel, Gil Blas and The Manuscript Found in Saragossa, both picaresques set in Spain. Underworld by DeLillo, Lanark, The Tin Drum, Moby-Dick, Dickens – Bleak House or Our Mutual Friend for me.

    Interested to see what you think of the Maias, I did like The Illustrious House of Ramires, not sure yet about the Maias.

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    • Hi zungg,
      ‘Underworld’ by DeLillo is one I must read, because I’ve read and loved nearly everything else of his. I did read ‘The Tin Drum’, ‘Moby Dick’ and ‘Mason & Dixon’ (which isn’t that long). I always wanted to read the two you mention by William Gaddis but haven’t got to them. I did read the first volume of ‘Parade’s End’ but did not care for it much. Also I have not approached the longer Dickens works. I consider the short ‘The Christmas Carol’ his best work.
      My first Eça de Queirós was ‘The Relic’ which was wonderful and since then I’ve read two more, so I’m ready for ‘The Maias’.

      Thanks for stopping by!

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  2. Posted by Obe on April 22, 2020 at 8:23 PM

    Hi Tony,
    Quickly what comes to mind; A Glastonbury Romance, Weymouth Sands , Maiden Castle (not as long), Les Miserables, Sot-Weed Factor, Infinite Jest (for the most part).
    An extended cycle I really liked was A Dance to the Music of Time.

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    • Hi Obe,
      I totally forgot about ‘Sot-Weed Factor’ and ‘Giles Goat-Boy’ by John Barth which I read even before ‘Ulysses. I was a big fan of Barth early on.
      You must be a big fan of John Powys. I may have read ‘Wolf Solent’ but am not sure.
      ‘Infinite Jest’ is another I have considered but have not decided yet.
      I have read three or four of ‘A Dance to the Music of Time’ by Anthony Powell, and consider them wonderful.

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  3. Long books no longer my choice – eyesight problems. But I am awed by your long-reads. I’m currently wading through Ducks, etc. Initially I loved the novel – but its hard work to read, its a sort of DIY novel, you have to join the dots, as it were. I stopped, to take a breather, and will shortly return to it. I, too, enjoyed Middlemarch, somewhat to my surprise.

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    • Hi Alison,
      I usually try to read the Goldsmiths Prize winner, because they seem to appreciate the same qualities I do, but I am not ready to attempt that 1000+ page ‘Ducks, Newburyport’ by Lucy Ellmann yet. In her case, she has no shorter novels available in which I could dip my toe in the water.
      I bet if I went back and read ‘Silas Marner’ now, I probably would like it also.

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  4. I’ve read a good few of the ones you mention and some others besides (Proust, Bolano, Xavier Herbert). The only one I didn’t like was Don Quixote…Pt 1 was fun, but I was over it by Pt 2.
    I used to save these books up for school holidays when I could loaf around and read them without much interruption. I don’t think I would enjoy them as much if I had to read them on an hour-a-day basis…

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    • Hi Lisa,
      ‘The Savage Detectives’ by Roberto Bolano is one long novel that I gave up on because it just seemed too repetitive and the characters didn’t interest me. I much preferred Bolano’s shorter quite humorous work ‘Nazi Literature in the Americas’.
      I read Proust’s somewhat shorter work, ‘Swann’s Way’ but didn’t like it enough to pursue any of his longer works.

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      • I listened to The Savage Detective as an audio book, and I know exactly what you mean by ‘a bit repetitive’! Those lists, it’s a wonder I didn’t drive off the road in exasperation!

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  5. Oooh. Bleak House is marvellous. Lord of the Rings sequence. Life: A User’s Manual by Georges Perec. There are so many…. I did love The Magic Mountain too!

    Liked by 1 person

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    • Hi kaggsy,
      ‘Life: A Users Manual’ is one long novel I absolutely want to read. In fact I bought a copy. I never had much interest in reading ‘Bleak House’, because it seems everything we love about Charles Dickens is in that short novella ‘The Christmas Carol’. 🙂
      Everyone around me loves ‘The Lord of the Rings’ but I am not persuaded. Fantasy is my least favorite genre, even less than science fiction.

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  6. Posted by Scott on April 23, 2020 at 4:41 PM

    Great article and suggestions. I have many favorites already listed (DeLillo, Barth, Hugo, Joyce, Eliot, Mann, Tolstoy) but two of my “Top 10’s” aren’t mentioned. The more obvious one is my favorite Dostoyevsky novel, “The Brothers Karamazov”. The other is the 1998 novel “Cloudsplitter” by Russell Banks. It’s a historical novel based on the life of American abolitionist John Brown. It was critically well received (a finalist for the Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner awards) but hasn’t achieved the popularity it deserves.

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    • Hi Scott,
      I’ve read ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ by Dostoyevsky and could very well have mentioned it in this article.
      ‘Cloudsplitter’ by Russell Banks has tempted me, because I have read a lot of Russell Banks. I will never forget the school bus accident in ‘The Sweet Hereafter’.

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  7. Posted by Scott on April 23, 2020 at 8:24 PM

    I’m veering from the literary angle of this discussion to mention “popular” novels both unforgettable and timeless.

    FIVE SMOOTH STONES by Anne Fairbairn – this way way way before its time story of an interracial couple during the America’s Civil Rights Era was published in 1966.

    THE WORD by Irving Wallace – Dan Brown HAD to have been inspired by this 1972 religious mystery thriller – definitely a forerunner to “The Da Vinci Code”.

    THE WITCHING HOUR by Anne Rice – forget vampires, this supernatural ghost story is her most captivating novel.

    THE MANNINGS by Fred Mustard Stewart – one family’s rise to fame and fortune is a reflection of 20th century American industry, morals, and manners. This 1973 soap seems to me a precursor to many popular American TV series’ of the 1980s.

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    • Hi Scott,
      Those novels I have not read. I do remember reading a novel by Irving Wallace called ‘The Prize’ before I got heavy into literature.
      I remember James Michener used to write some massive novels, and there is always ‘Gone With the Wind’.

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      • Posted by Scott on April 24, 2020 at 5:03 AM

        Forgot about Michener – “The Drifters” was my favorite of his. And, of course, “Gone With the Wind” is another great one.

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  8. I love long novels. To name just a few of my all time favorites: The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, Winter’s Tale by Mark Halprin, Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes, The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoyevsky,

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    • Hi Olivia,
      I have read ‘The Magic Mountain’ and ‘The Brothers Karamazov’, both are excellent. I have read shorter novels by Mark Halprin and Carlos Fuentes, but have not gotten to their longer works.
      Another excellent long novel is ‘Buddenbrooks’ by Thomas Mann which I probably like better than even ‘The Magic Mountain’.

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  9. I read Buddenbrooks too but still like The Magic Mountain best.

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