emceng wrote:I would agree. You definitely could have edited it down - removed the black dude/prince story line, less time spent on Strange at War, etc. But it would have lost some of the character and feel of the book. I think back to some of Zelazny's work. He has very interesting stories, but some of them needed to be fleshed out more. That kind of goes back to the discussion of LeGuin. LeGuin is able to tell a story where you felt the whole narrative was there - even in just 150 pages. Zelazny's books I many times felt like there was context and background - maybe character development as well - that could have been added but was not.
The thing is, being edited down also forces a writer to choose the parts of the story that really matter, and spend valuable pages only if they are needed. That's also why it is useful if that pressure comes from the outside, like an editor, because it can be hard for writers to scrap their own creations. It felt to me as if this book could have benefited a lot from such pressure.
The part of Strange in the war is a good example, I think. It could be chosen as vitally important to the story, because it shows the development of Strange into a powerful, independent magician, and because it shows his experience with death magic. In a shorter book, it could have been an entire act of the book.
Another choice could have been to boil the episode down to a few "postcard" examples, perhaps even in flashback. Then it becomes just a small facet in the broader development of Strange, a hint of things going on outside of the book narrative.
But in the book, it is both and neither. It is too small a part of the story to be a really important element, it feels a bit superfluous even. But on the other hand it too detailed to act as "postcard". It is too complete to feel as an example of many other things Strange is going through. So it starts to feel as a recording: Strange went through this, so we have to tell about it. But this part, and many other parts, never feel as if you need
to be told about them.
aurumelectrum13 wrote:Exactly. It's a pastiche of Dickens and Austin. Books were longer then.
Do you mean Austen? If so, I think these are two different things. Dickens books are long and sprawling because they aren't novels, they are collections of serializations. The audience they were intended for read them as several dozen separate parts, making it a slightly different art form than a novel.
Austen on the other hand did write novels: intended to be read as a whole in several sittings, with the reader choosing when to stop. Her books are a lot shorter than Strange And Norrell, around 300 to 350 pages each, and each page smaller than S&N's 800. I guess Strange and Norrel has nearly three times the text of a typical Austen novel. I'd say that Strange and Norrell shares some resemblance to Jane Austen in style of the sentences, also of descriptions of areas, but definitely not in the plotting and pacing, or in the way characters are introduced and developed.
You can see the opposite with Zelazny, as emceng notes. He was really, pyhsically constrained by the format of mass-market paperbacks of those years, and that produced a genre that was really a specific sub-genre of novels. Mass-market books from those decades are all nearly identical in length, and writers had to learn to write to that. Some books of Zelazny are clearly over-filling, pruned down a lot to fit the format, but others are a bit stretched, extended to fit the standard size.
Modern paperbacks are less restrcted in size, and you see that the 'typical" novel has grown a lot, to something somewhat large than Austen novels. But I would argue that very thick, multi-volume fantasy stories are more different than just longer novels. They are a somewhat different art form, just as Dickens doesn't really wrote novels. It's an art form that perhaps still needs some twerking, especially when it comes to closing.
So I'd say that Susanna Clarke could write a long book because fantasy readers and publishers are used to tomes. But the book she actually wrote was not a tome-type book, and would have been a better book if it was closer in length to a traditional novel.