The Battle of the Book Behemoths

on Monday, March 2, 2020
Like just about every other reader on the planet, I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of the last instalment in Hilary Mantel's Cromwell Trilogy, The Mirror and the Light. Unlike many others, I have the somewhat daunting distinction of not having read any of them. Yes, knowing from the outset that it would be told over the course of three books, I decided to wait until they'd all been published then go at them as one. While that sounds kind of piggish and silly (and I admit it is), at least I didn't quite do what a friend of mine did, holding off for all the Knausgaard books to be translated before embarking on them (he even toyed with learning Norwegian as it would probably be quicker). What I hadn't anticipated, of course, is quite how long each book would be. Wolf Hall kicked things off with 675 pages. Bring Up the Bodies was a relative novella at 432. And now... gulp... along comes The Mirror and the Light, which breaks the scales at over 900 pages. So that's about twenty-four billion pages I have ahead of me, in a single sequential stretch.

Not that I'm complaining. It is, however, indicative of a very clear trend: the big book is well and truly back. I say this as I'm halfway through Colm McCann's new novel, Apeirogon (a mind-bending addition to the "i" before "e" except after "c" rule exceptions), which, at 457 pages, is seriously hurting my wrist. Meanwhile, Yaniv Iczkovits's incredible novel, The Slaughterman's Daughter, has also finally found its way to the English-speaking world in what, I must say, is one of the most stunning aesthetic carapaces I've seen in just about forever. That's another 500 pages (every one of which I relished last year when I read it in proof form). And so they keep coming. Just look at my bookshelf!

I have yet to brave Krasznahorkai's brick. And I'm dying to read Tyll, after all the raves it's been getting. So much for my annual tally clocking 200 books. Maybe I need to shift to page counts instead!


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