“rambling, bloated ill-shaven giants…”

I don’t know about you but I find that most novels these days are far too long. I am not a numbers guy but I would say they are at least 20% too long. Maybe authors feel the pressure to reach 300 pages (80,000 words) in order to get taken seriously by publishing houses, critics and prize jurors, I am not sure. What I do find is either they are bloated in the middle or ramble at the end. That’s one of the reasons I am fan of short stories. The good ones are never bloated, have no room to ramble.

I love a novel that comes in around 200 pages (around 55,000 words). There’s no shortage of classics at this length: The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby, Catcher in the Rye, A Sport and a Pastime, Slaughterhouse-Five. Yet it can be difficult to find contemporary classics at this length. As far as Canadadian literary fiction goes, there is David Adams Richard’s The Miramichi Trilogy, David Gilmore’s A Perfect Night to go to China, and Joel Thomas Hynes’ Down to Dirt. Those books do it all in about 200 pages.

Ian McEwan just had a fantastic editorial in the New Yorker on how he finds novellas (between 20,000 and 40,000 words) “the perfect form for prose fiction.” He goes on to say that the form “is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days).” Great line. Great article that I suggest you check out if this subject at all interests you.


And if you haven’t read On Chesil Beach, add it to the reading list. McEwan backs up his point with a novella that is more tender and sweeping than most novels.





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