Friday, 16 October 2009

Brick, Lame

Why are all new novels 600 pages long? I am wading through Stieg Larsson's new effort, and boy is it a marathon. It's full of lists. Pages 73-5 describe a shopping trip by our heroine in unprecedented detail, with such immortal sentences as 'She bought two Karlanda sofas with sand-coloured upholstery, five Poang armchairs, two round side tables of clear-lacquered birch, a Svansbo coffee table and several Lack occasional tables'. And it doesn't stop there. Let's hope she had all the bits when she got home.

This whopper is the follow-up to his last bestseller1. Larsson, if you don't know him, was a slightly earnest balding forty-something journalist who is alas no longer with us. The underlying stories are pretty good; it's racy stuff, in which a slightly earnest balding forty-something journalist solves murders, mostly by drinking coffee, and sleeping with every female character he comes across. There are whole chapters where you're willing him to just get on with it. (The plot, I mean).

He's not the only novelist where skipping pages is required if you want to finish before the plane lands. It's a common trend - so what's going on? I have a theory. (Don't roll your eyes, it's a good one). I blame the word processor. Yes, the simple, ubiquitous PC, or, as Stieg L might have it, the Mac Ibook G3 with 35 cm screen, 32 Gb hard drive, 2 Gb of RAM, a zip drive and a coffee-cup holder, set on a clever desk from Ikea. With one of these babies every word you write can be preserved in formaldehyde and regurgitated later on with a nifty cut and paste manoeuvre.

In Jane Austen's time they didn't have word processors; they only had the Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and TV hadn't been invented so even they weren't much use. No, Jane had to use a pen, with proper ink, so in order to achieve more than one book in a lifetime she had to choose her words with care instead of spewing them forth like an MTV presenter.

Imagine if she was equipped with MS Word. Darcy's rejected proposal to Elizabeth in the original novel is far too short; just a sentence or two. Where's the detail? Here's the revised version in Pride, Prejudice, Propriety, Providence, Privilege and Prosperity:

He sat down for a few moments, uncomfortable on the edge of the two-cushion Karslanda with peach print and laminated oak legs. Then getting up, he walked about the room, frowning absentmindedly at the volumes lining the Billy in beech veneer. Elizabeth was surprised, but said not a word. Quietly she waited on her Poang, maintaining her composure, concentrating silently on her upcoming lunch of swedish meatballs and curry sauce. After a silence of several minutes, Darcy came towards her in an agitated manner, and thus began: "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. This has been a rollercoaster ride of emotion, but it's my dream, I've earned it, the moment I've been waiting for all my life. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you. And respect you as a person of course."

See? Much better.

1- The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Short Hair, Interesting Piercings, Leather Trousers, High-Heeled Shoes and Underwear from Stockholm's Raciest Shop


  1. Interesting theory Ubergrumpy, it may also explain why you are so prolix yourself!.... only kidding, keep'em coming.

  2. I'm not prolix, I'm a lib dem

  3. I like this. I also like ikea, don't you dare diss the swedish mega shop.

  4. Improving the divine Jane! Hubris, ubergrumpy, hubris. It is arguable that dissing IKEA is the worse crime...

  5. I don't think Descartes had MS Word but he manages to write some pretty unnecessary things;
    "I saw clearly that the three angles of any given triangle must equal two right angles; yet for all that, I saw nothing which assured me that there existed any triangle in the world".

  6. Last time I saw a zx spectrum was in the Musée des Arts et Métiers in Paris between a zx81 and Foucault's pendulum. I used to play games on the spectrum. You're fingers would get stuck in the keys.

  7. Does Poang really require a capital? And what else would she wait on?