This is not a post designed to endear myself to my literary blogging colleagues or to make myself sound particularly brainy but I don’t always like, er, very thick books. They put me off. I’m sorry – pop a dunce hat on me and I’ll sit in the corner.
There is something to be said, no doubt, for epics of the Forsythe Saga or Anna Karenina variety. There is something delightful, too, about being whisked away for 600 pages to emerge breathless and slightly dazed. Even so, pretty much all of my favourite books are short. I think it was JG Ballard who said there is no such thing as a perfect novel but there are perfect short stories and, by gum, he had a point. The shorter a book is the fewer mistakes, logically, it can have. The shorter a book is the tighter, generally, a book’s prose must be. Instead of waffling on for a page about the way the sun hit the lake in the morning you have a sentence and the result is more likely to linger in the reader’s memory than 500 words of fuck-all about the reflection of this and that or the way the duck’s arse rested delicately on the reflective surface. Etc.
But every now and again there are exceptions and Jonathan Franzen’s truly divine The Corrections is one of them.
I have just about finished re-reading this one and, frankly, the sheer bulk of it is a joy. How else to tell the separate but interlocking stories of one messed up family? How else to truly get to grips with the joy of family member chip’s screenplay which “starts off with a six-page lecture about the anxieties of the phallus in Tudor drama” and only gets more (unintentionally) funny?
It’s been awhile since I read the book the first time around and if I’m honest it’s the bloody size of the thing that’s put me off. I’ll do it another time, I mutter, slipping a delightfully slim volume of something else out of the bookcase instead. Perhaps I’ll wait to take it on a holiday or something. Naturally I wish I hadn’t waited so long. And yet. Although I would not want to whittle this particular book down the sublime brusqueness of, say, anything Graham Greene every wrote, neither would I say there aren’t opportunities for brevity. I could, I feel, chop a swift 50 pages out without shedding much in the way of tears.
Even so, are those additional 50 pages, with or without any potentially forgotten lake descriptions that might crop up in the remaining pages I have to go, a fair price for a joy of a book? Of course. Does this mean I’ll be taking on War and Peace anytime soon? Er, maybe for my next holiday…