Saturday, January 13, 2007

Long Novels

Vikram Chandra's new novel Sacred Games, which is being marketed as a "literary thriller" set in the underworld of Bombay, is getting lots of coverage these days. There is a nice review by Pankaj Mishra in the latest new yorker too. Most of the reviews mention the length of the novel -- it is over 900 pages long. I was just thinking what kind of an act of faith it must be to take up such a big contemporary novel! His publishers have the usual (and meaningless) comparisons ready too. The bookjacket says that Chandra's novel recalls "the great and capacious novels of the 19th century."

I have read only very few long novels. But almost all of them that I have read are masterpieces and my favourites too.

In Search of Lost Time:
I have read only around 1600 pages of the book (till the middle of The Guermantes Way) and that is still a little short of the half way mark but reading those pages have been the most memorable, though far from happy, reading experiences of my (short) reading life so far. The way Proust tapped something that was happening inside me in those two-three months of 2004 Winter was uncanny and I had to actually force myself to give it up so that I could concentrate all my energies to get my life back on track. So that I could live a normal life again. I have managed to avoid picking up the book again.

Don Quixote: No book has made me laugh so hard and no other book has made me cry.

The Brothers Karamazov: Russians are famous for writing really long novels and this is my favourite big russian novel. (I haven't yet read War and Peace.) Somehow I find it very easy to read Russian novels. There is something in the russian landscapes, the russian climate and people that I could just go on and on with reading about them and never ever get bored.

Other long books I have read: A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (too lightweight), The Magic Mountain (too heavyweight, too boring, read but skipped many chapters which were too dense for my small head), Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, The Possessed by Dostoevsky (both are well...masterpieces). (By long novels I mean more than 600 pages.)

I have been eyeing The Man Without Qualities (the A La Recherche of the Austro-Hungarian empire) for some time. Specially now that I am on a central European literary tour. (Roth, Bernhard, Bachmann, Schnitzler, Krasznahorkai all I have read in the past few months...)


Antonia said...

Don Quixote is great.Foralong time I did not read the last hundred pages or so for I did not want him to die. Then someone told me he does not die...

Alok said...

your friend didn't tell you the truth :) though one can understand because it is so difficult to imagine that don quixote could ever die! the ending in fact is so abrupt that i think even cervantes believed that he could go on for ever and ever. it is actually very sad. you did the right thing :)