Reading Middlemarch with no particular desire to finish reading Middlemarch brought home to me just how much I love reading what Henry James denounced as ‘loose baggy monsters’ or very long books (as defined, say, of more than five hundred pages).
I don’t think Middlemarch is that loose or baggy, quite the opposite in fact. It is a novel of immense discipline with a great deal of thought put into the architecture and the skeleton building. Nor do I think looseness is such a bad thing in a novel. Looseness gives one room to breathe, to slow down.
There is something in the psychological experience of burrowing into a long and expansive novel that is very special. That isn’t too say I don’t admire writers who can achieve the concentrated unity of an effective shorter novel, but all too often they rely overly much on plot, creating those tiresome “page-turners” that end up being exhausting and ephemeral. Besides, are monsters such a bad thing? The word stems from monstrum, something that upsets thought, that lives at the edge of reason, and that is an apt word to underpin the unsettling, time-shifting nature of a long, complex novel.
So I have in my sights some other monsters that I’ve not read before. This might be a year I read only another dozen books:
- Alexander Theroux, Einstein’s Beets
- Péter Nádas, Parallel Stories
- Lawrence Durrell, The Alexandria Quartet
- Cora Sandel, Alberta trilogy
- Peter Handke, My Year in the No-Man’s-Bay
- George Eliot, Daniel Deronda
- Katherine Anne Porter, Ship of Fools
- Divine Comedy (Dorothy Sayers’ translation)
- Uwe Johnson, Anniversaries
- Thomas Mann, Joseph and his Brothers
- Dorothy Richardson, Pilgrimage (last four books to finish)
- Maybe more Nádas, or Tolstoy, or Weymouth Sands, or rereading Proust or Karamazov, or . . .
If you have a favourite monster I’ve not mentioned please drop into comments.