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Why do modern novels have to be so long?

6th January 2011

Modern novelists should attempt to craft slimmer works rather than producing weighty tomes, one commentator has argued.

Arifa Akbar, the Independent's deputy literary editor, said there appears to be an unwritten rule that the modern literary novel has to run to at least 300 pages and claimed it is a 'rare event' when authors publish something less hefty.

Akbar cited the example of Jonathan Franzen's Freedom - hailed as one of the best novels of 2010 and running to some 562 pages - and questioned whether the much-awaited book would have had the same critical attention if it were a 150-page novella.

The correspondent added that some of the finest pieces of literature of the modern age, such as J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye, Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49 and F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, are relatively short.

'Other writers have worked best in small packages, creating worlds sometimes more complex and sophisticated than in a novel – Somerset Maugham and Daphne du Maurier built their reputations on the small form,' Akbar concluded.

Last year, Irish writer Claire Keegan told the Observer that the short form can still have a powerful impact on readers, as such stories have to work on the 'level of suggestion'.
 

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