Monday, January 31, 2011

The Hornby Rule of Novel Reading

I started Great House by Nicola Krauss last week and was reminded why I don't read many Novels-with-a-capital-N any more.

The Polysyllabic SpreeIt was exactly as Nick Hornby (in his wonderful collection of book reviews, The Polysyllabic Spree) described reading the Zoe Heller novel Desperate Characters:

Toward the end of the book, Otto and Sophie, the central couple, go to stay in their holiday home. Sophie opens the door to the house, and is immediately reminded of a friend, an artist who used to visit them there; she thinks about him for a page or so. The reason she's thinking about him is that she's staring at something he loved, a vinegar bottle shaped like a bunch of grapes. The reason she's staring at the bottle is because it's in pieces. And the reason it's in pieces is because someone has broken in and trashed the place, a fact we only discover when Sophie has snapped out of her reverie. At this point, I realized with some regret that not only could I never write a literary novel, but I couldn't even be a character in a literary novel. I can only imagine myself, or any character I created, saying, "Shit! Some bastard has trashed the house!" No rumination about artist friends--just a lot of cursing, and maybe some empty threats of violence.

I know I've told you about this notion of Nick Hornby's before, but I hadn't declared it a rule until now: The Hornby Rule of Novel Reading. Once the characters in a novel get so wrapped up in their own reveries that their behavior makes no sense, I am done. There are too many books and too little time.

And, Nick, no regrets, please! There's more insight in a single sentence with the honest observation of a character's behavior than in pages of fake reverie. And there's nothing wrong with plot either.

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