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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Less can be more--the London review of Franzen

If you read the review of Freedom in the London Review of Books then you are exhausted. Like the novel the review goes on and and bitterly proves the point of novels that are too long. By the end the reviewer hopes for a shorter novel next time. All the comparisons to Tolstoy ring suddenly hollow; Americans taking a long novel and comparing it to a nineteenth century novel that was probably too long as well. Too many words for the writer become too many words for the reader when all is said and done.

But across the big pond the Brits don't buy off on the slow movement of the big book. To read this review is to go back to every lit class  you ever had where intern profs bulled through sludgy novels and told you what they really meant. And you sat there thinking, wow, I didn't get all that! Not too take anything away from the reviewer, I really believe he worked hard to give a novel he didn't care for, it's due. But when it was all said and done he seemed annoyed that he had to wait so long to come to the final conclusion that the book didn't work.

Of course the old less is more rule is silly by now in it's banal application. Hemingway may have said it and it has served many writers very well, but to apply to a book like Franzen's does seem like putting a band aid on a gushing wound. But you do wonder if the book could have simply benefited by some rigorous cutting. The reviewer of the London Book Review has many problems with the novel that would not be solved by simple reduction. But in our haste to proclaim a Masterpiece, American simplicity might be warranted again with a simple...I would cut that scene. Who knows, less still might really be more.

William Hazelgrove's latest novel is Rocket Man due out in the fall.

Books by William Hazelgrove