I haven’t written much in the past couple of months, not here but not elsewhere either. I missed writing for the February and March issues of Kindle, had to extend the deadline on my dissertation proposal and several other things. The reason, besides lots of travelling back and forth, is that I ended up developing a rather serious case of chicken pox. Quite the last thing I expected to happen during this year abroad, but that is why Murphy’s Law is a thing, isn’t it.
Working your way through chicken pox without the presence of mum is quite the daunting thing. There’s no one to hear you whine, make you soup and other nourishing things, regulate your medicine-taking, wash your hair in a tub while you stay in bed just because you happen to feel icky. What I did manage to do, however, in the two or three weeks when I was completely unable to get out of bed, was to catch up on a lot of reading. Being ill gives you the perfect excuse to read as you please, for you’re in no state to edit, read critically, make notes or turn your reading into opinionated articles immediately after. So I ingested a lot of pills, gummy candy and oily takeaway and in between re-read sections of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell because my friend happened to have a copy in his house. (I was in London. My own copy was in Stirling.) I read The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon, which I had downloaded a couple of months ago. I started reading The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, which, of course is a very long book and will take some time to finish. One day when I was in the mood for poetry, I read The Absent Traveller: Prakrit Love Poetry from the Gathasaptasati of Satavahana Hala in a moving though somewhat opaque English translation by A. K. Mehrotra. The last three were on the Kindle, so the Kindle has obviously seen some use. (And got some love. I think I will buy it a cover now.)
I have much to say about The Luminaries, even though I’m not yet halfway through it. The novel interests me for several reasons. Of course it won the latest Man Booker prize. It also happened to be the longest book that’s ever done so. Now, long books are not my favourite thing. They are hard to move around (both from one city/country to another or even generally around in your backpack) and take forever to finish. I almost never buy a hardcover or even borrow one from the library, even when I really want to read the book and the wait for the paperback is long. I may not have bought The Luminaries if it wasn’t available as an ebook. And even if I did, it would have been much less likely that I’d actually finish it. Few of us can afford the luxury of reading a book solely at home any more, and that’s the only way a large hardcover demands to be read.
The other thing I have something to say is about the plot. From where I am currently in the novel I can see a glaring perspective error, but I’m hoping the author will justify it at a later point – the book did win the Booker prize after all – so this is not about that. What I’m enjoying about The Luminaries is that it actually has a plot that moves, without compromising on the kind of richness and nuance that is meant to characterize a ‘literary’ novel. Things actually happen. The story at the core is a murder mystery and the novel manages to keep it intriguing. It’s not richness and nuance for the sake of themselves, piled on a story that is basically insipid and a drag.
What I’m genuinely intrigued by, however, is the return of the very long novel. The other very long novel that everyone has been talking about is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. At some point I’m hoping to get to read that book. Do very long novels really work in this time and day? Am I the only person who struggles to finish them? Who knows. Now that I have finally managed to start off 2014 on this blog, maybe sometime later I’ll write more on the subject.