In a Cafe Society thread in the past summer – Sevenneves by Neal Stephenson – I posted about having lately then, tried to read the same author’s Quicksilver; and having “found the whole thing just too long and meandering, for my perhaps not very discerning tastes”, and giving up in boredom, about a quarter of the way through the book. A number of posters on that thread told of similar experiences and sentiments of their own with Quicksilver.
Late in 2015, I had a try at another novel, with some observable features in common with Stephenson’s Quicksilver: namely The Sot-Weed Factor by John Barth. Was attracted in part by seeing it described as not only a much admired and respected literary achievement; but allegedly, hilariously funny. To be honest – it proved very much the same deal for me, as with Stephenson’s book. Quite charmingly odd and whimsical in its way; but gave rise for me, as far as I got in it, to just the occasional chuckle, and no belly-laughs. And so far as I could make out, the author was just randomly and discursively following his nose from one pointless episode in the hero Ebenezer’s life, to another. I made it till the sequence involving the doings of Eb (still in England) with the “golden-hearted tart”; and tailed-off there – finding it all, predominantly, wearisome. (I had notions of perhaps, after a respite, trying to take the novel up again – it being regarded as such a reverence-worthy modern classic – but can’t just now, find the book in the house: wonder whether I might in fact have said “to hell with it”, and taken it off to the charity shop.)
I cannot help musing on whether there might be some rule, by which novels about the experiences of awkward, goofy, eccentric young men among the higher social echelons of seventeenth-century England, have to be hugely lengthy, wordy, and shapeless, and forever going off prolongedly up whatever assorted cul-de-sac byways into which the author’s whimsy happens to take him. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by too many modern thrillers / mysteries / “comedies of manners” which are tersely written, and move along at a rapid clip…?
(I’m aware that I am sometimes taken to task for, myself, writing in a rambling and over-verbose way; but I’m not a novelist hoping to score fame, fortune, and a huge readership of devoted fans.)