Good Slow-Moving Novels etc.

Extollager

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#1
Surely the right speed at which a story moves along should move along depends on other considerations, rather than "fast-moving" being itself a term of praise -- although in the 20th century it did become an often-unquestioned term of praise.

A good reader and a good book should "agree" on narrative pace. And, of course, within one given story (say a novel), the right narrative pace might vary, but usually it is indeed possible to refer to an entire story (novel) as fast or as slow, or not to refer to the pace at all, which means, I suppose, that one isn't much conscious of the pace.

I see this thread as focused on stories (usually novels, but perhaps also biographies, etc.) that seem to move along at what seems to be an appropriately slow pace. These will likely be stories inviting or, indeed, requiring the reader to think about moral issues; they may (Peake's Gormenghast books) lavish great attention upon the accumulation of descriptive detail; they may emphasize character (Henry James's novels).

This thread is intended for people prepared to grant that, with some stories, a slow pace is right, and for discussion of stories that seem slow-paced and good.

The one I'm finishing now is an example: R. C. Hutchinson's Testament (1938). The principal characters include Captain Otraveskov, whose little boy, Vava, suffers from a spinal malady, and whose beloved wife, Natalia, has had a breakdown because she believed him to have been killed at the front, Anton Scheffler, who fell foul of the tsarist authorities when he refused to certify as fit for service some convalescent soldiers, and his wife, Lisaveta, who adjusts to a radically new social order as the revolution proceeds. One of the novels' many accomplishments is the sense of the gradual "revolutionification" of life in Petrograd and Moscow as well as villages.

Some Good Reads remarks:

This huge novel is set in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution. A prefatory note by “R.C.H.” in Testament purports to explain that his book is based on a faithful adaptation, although with names changed, of a memoir given him in Paris by Captain Alexei Otraveskov. The vision in Testament is personal, from the ground up ...and it gives a vivid sense of the sheer chaotic muddle of the revolution, and its dislocating and destructive terror.

Testament is a ‘proper novel’ of just over 700 pages. It is worth every one. It and its protagonists trudge from one catastrophe to the next throughout – but always with a human warmth, rugged hope and a sense of morals which transcend their situation. It is a novel of survival, but one in which the author is firmly on the side of the protagonist, rather than arrayed cynically against him!

One of Hutchinson's neat touches is to make the two main characters both sympathetic to democracy and social justice and with an aversion to the tsarist regime. This makes it all the more effective when they become the tyrannised victims of ...Bolshevism.


Now here are some remarks from critics, taken from an annotated bibliography of items by and about Hutchinson.

"...enthralling...has an irresistible excitingness...[Huntchinson] is unquestionably among modern novelists, in the very highest class, and good enough to make mostof his contemporaries look trivial" -- Frank Swinnerton, The Observer

"...a victory of imagination" -- Kate O'Brien, Spectator

"A book of extraordinary richness and diversity" -- C. Day Lewis, Book Society News

Several reviewers objected that the book was too long. As I approach the end, I would say, it does seem long, but not padded. It's "immersive." I certainly intend to pick up another of his novels before too long, perhaps Elephant and Castle or A Child Possessed.

I wonder if this novel has a future, though. If someone has grown up on rapid-clicking devices, would he or she be able to stick it out?
 
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tinkerdan

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#2
Realizing that this is in Literary fiction category, I might be stepping off a bit with my nominee; however for me this 41 year old book is a classic that definitely requires the reader to slow the pace.

Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren can weigh in at around 800 pages and is packed with sometimes slow pondering images of a world gone awry and some tough issues are addressed throughout without necessarily giving many answers to those.

It can be a monster of a read and it doesn't help to try to hurry it along.

Coming out the other end the reader might sense having gone through a labyrinth and only they can decide whether that's good or bad and if it was worth the trip.
 

Extollager

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#4
Thanks for comments so far. By the way, I should have made clearer: I am not talking about novels that are long. The Lord of the Rings is long, but it is not a slow novel. I hope that no one will mix those up. Most of the classic Victorian novels are not slow, however long they be. I hope people can make a distinction between "books that took me a long time to read" and books that are genuinely slow-moving. It is only with the latter that this thread is to be concerned.

It's some years since I read it, but I would say that just about the only Victorian novel that I've read that certainly has a slow pace is Charlotte Bronte's Villette, a fine book. It takes a while to read Bleak House, War and Peace, and Anna Karenina, but these are not slow novels. Is Middlemarch a slow book? It's nearing 40 years since I read that one.... Dostoevsky's Idiot is probably a slow novel.

And again, slowness is a plus if the best way to tell the story is slowly, perhaps the way Conrad writes some of his stories. Yes, I think Lord Jim was slow, and Nostromo. And James -- The Portrait of a Lady. Slowness is detrimental if the pace best suited to that particular story is a speedier pace. If The Thirty-Nine Steps were paced so as to fill 400 pages, it would be too slow; it ought to be, as it is, fast-paced.
 
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Extollager

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#6
I acquired a bunch of Robertson Davies books when a colleague retired, but I haven't read any of them except, years ago, the first Deptford book. Thoughts?
 

hitmouse

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#11
Certainly not overtly in the first book though possibly if you look hard. In the second, one of the main characters undegoes a course of analysis, but it fits the story rather than being gratuitous. I would heartily recommend the series.
I dont think there is any of that in the Cornish trilogy, though I read it 30 years ago. Set in an old Canadian university. Really clever comedy of manners/whodunnit.
 
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hitmouse

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#12
Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Nausea by Jean Paul Sartre
The Outsider by Albert Camus
Infante's Inferno by G Cabrera Infante
Tieta by Jorge Amado
Confederacy of Dunces
Pretty much anything by Garrison Kielor.
 
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Extollager

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#13
Certainly not overtly in the first book though possibly if you look hard. In the second, one of the main characters undegoes a course of analysis, but it fits the story rather than being gratuitous. I would heartily recommend the series.
I dont think there is any of that in the Cornish trilogy, though I read it 30 years ago. Set in an old Canadian university. Really clever comedy of manners/whodunnit.
Thanks, that's helpful. I may just set aside some Davies for a try before too long.
 
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#14
Realizing that this is in Literary fiction category, I might be stepping off a bit with my nominee; however for me this 41 year old book is a classic that definitely requires the reader to slow the pace.

Samuel R. Delany's Dhalgren can weigh in at around 800 pages and is packed with sometimes slow pondering images of a world gone awry and some tough issues are addressed throughout without necessarily giving many answers to those.

It can be a monster of a read and it doesn't help to try to hurry it along.

Coming out the other end the reader might sense having gone through a labyrinth and only they can decide whether that's good or bad and if it was worth the trip.
I read Triton and Nova before reading Dhalgren. I was very impressed with Delany's SF stories. I got Dhalgren without knowing anything about it except for an idea of the style from reading Nova and Triton. Once I started reading it, I didn't see it as science fiction, for me, very little of what was happening was far outside of what seemed possible in 1975. What struck me most about the story was the wandering aspect of it throughout a seemingly burned out no longer functional city. Though mythical, the backdrop of years of real riots made it easy to assume it was an abandoned city in real time that actually existed. The fact that someone would use a city like that as a background for a novel made it all the more real to me. From then on it was a story that played out in people's minds, no sci fi effects needed. The notebook added a nice touch.
 

Victoria Silverwolf

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#17
Hmmm. How about The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1759 - 1767) by Laurence Sterne, which is full of things happening, although it's all one big shaggy dog story which never really gets around to Shandy's life and opinions.

Or maybe Moby-Dick; or, the Whale (1851) by Herman Melville, with its endless digressions from a pretty simple plot.

Within the SF category, we have Report on Probability A (1967) by Brian Aldiss, which really has no plot at all.

Anyway, I enjoyed all three of these books and was never bored by them.
 

Extollager

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#18
Those first two books, Victoria, are ones I'd like to reread. Thanks for adding them to the emerging "slow-moving" bibliography. Thanks also for the Aldiss mention, though I can't say I have read it.
 

Bick

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#19
I was racking my brain trying to think of a really slow book, and have so far come up short (I'll keep thinking) but I'm reminded of a book a friend of mine was laughing about recently, on account of it being so slow:

In Search of Lost Time - Proust. Starting with Swann's Way, this book begins with the famous line "For a long time I used to go to bed early", but over a 100 pages later, he still hasn't gone to bed. Its only about an hour or so later, and he's spent all these pages introducing the idea of going to bed, remembering various things and, presumably, slowly getting ready for bed. Now that's slooow. It's 'slowness' is usually matched by the pace of the reader, I suspect. My mate has been 'reading' Proust's great work for about 7 years and has managed about 130 pages. At this rate he will finish the whole opus in 227 years when he turns 278. Proust would be proud of him.

Incidentally, in my brain racking for example of my own, I offer up Solzhenitsyn's Cancer Ward, in which not a huge amount happens quite slowly as I recall. Its a long time since I read it, though - I think I read this when I was about 14, which seems a peculiar thing to do at that age, I must have been an insufferable child. I do recall its about Kostoglotov, a cancer patient in communist USSR, and how he didn't have a very cheery life. It doesn't sound cheery does it? (I went though a phase of reading anything and everything on my parents shelves and found, to my surprise that most books, if well written, are entirely readable. It's just bad books that are a struggle).

I also perhaps offer Titus Groan - its not especially slow compared to some, but its prose and style is of a slow book nature that one should contemplate and spend good time with and not rush - its gripping, but certainly not in a car chase kind of way, and certain plot lines do take their time.
 

Extollager

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#20
Agreed -- I remember Titus Groan as slow and as something that needs to be read slowly, so that those innumerable descriptions can be developed in the reader's imagination.

Rachel Maddux's The Green Kingdom seems, in memory, pretty slow, but I was impressed.

Green Kingdom by Rachel Maddux
 

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