I’m not a fast reader. I might spend a week or ten days reading in the evening before I finish off a typical novel. So it’s ironic how much I can enjoy long, complex, challenging novels. Do you?
Here are some that have stuck in my mind over the years:
Moby Dick by Herman Melville- I keep hearing people say how boring this is, but I read it at thirteen or fourteen, so I guess the boring parts went right over my head. To quote from the novel How I Became a Famous Novelist “Instead of loving perfectly good books like Moby Dick, where a ***ing whale eats everybody, these ***s insisted on pretending to like excruciating books like . . .” Yeah.
The Broken God by David Zindell- I think I read this at least twice, and yet I never tell anyone “You have to read this book.” It’s so dense with detail I just know the readers I’m personally acquainted with wouldn’t be into it. Are any of you?
Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson- Long, dense, fascinating. I read this one twice too. I even know other people who’ve read it and like it. And yet I’ve never gone on to read the follow ups. I don’t know why.
The Silmarillion by JRR Tolkien- Despite my utter adoration for The Lord of the Rings, I didn’t read this until much, much later in life. I’ve since read it two or three times, and then picked up The Children of Hurin when that came out, and read it again. It is, of course, classic tragedy.
Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin- I was tricked into reading this. Evidently it was a big deal when it came out, though I had never heard of it. Someone loaned me a copy, implying she had read it and it was a wonderful book. And it is a wonderful book! Rather like a fever dream can be wonderful and engrossing (although this is a bad analogy, since everything in the story is cold). I liked it so much I bought my own copy. The person who gave me the book seemed surprised I had gotten through it, and confessed she’d never read it at all.
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad- Okay, this isn’t a long novel, but it is complex in the way it’s written, so I include it here. I’m not usually a fan of stories that focus on the sheer awfulness of people, but this one works for me. I had it on my nightstand for a couple of years and would read it at random. The use of language is astonishing, as in: “The word ‘ivory’ rang in the air, was whispered, was sighed. You would think they were praying to it. A taint of imbecile rapacity blew through it all, like a whiff from some corpse.” And “There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies—which is exactly what I hate and detest of the world—what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do.”
Has anyone else read and admired any of these books?
What are your “long and complex” favorites?