Monday, 20 January 2014

Novel as Boxed Set

Whither the novel? That's the question on everyone's lips these days (hem hem). I caught a worrying hint of where the novel might be heading when I heard something on the radio over the weekend. A novelist (I didn't catch her name) mentioned a conversation she'd had with her agent, in the course of which the agent assured her that what publishers, in their wisdom, are looking for now is novels that are the literary equivalent of the TV boxed set, novels that are an 'immersive experience', novels that are, presumably, very long - even longer than the bloated beasts now being published. Factor in the spread of the baleful Booker Effect to the US (newly eligible for this absurdly over-hyped prize) and the future looks to be one of big, fat - sorry, 'immersive' - volumes that would give the Victorian three-decker a run for its money.
  The novel as the new boxed set, then - really? Boxed sets became so successful because, from about The Sopranos on, there was a remarkable surge in quality, long-form TV drama, stuff that everyone was talking about, stuff that demanded - and in many case actually repaid - a big investment of time. If people couldn't make that investment at the time, they'd buy the boxed set and either indulge in an orgy of catching up or (how often I wonder?) enjoy owning it without actually getting round to watching it. Is this a model for book publishing to emulate? Has there been a surge in quality fiction, is there a buzz about the contemporary novel? Do readers want more? Are they keen to make the time investment in ever longer and fatter novels? I must say it seems very unlikely to me.


  1. The companion book club Maigret series (now only available used) is the nearest I can think of, not Simenon's full set but a good cross section. The problem is, he was an exceptional writer, short on long words he drew the reader in to his dark Paris world, over many years and seventy plus stories, became television drama in countries from Japan to Britain. How many modern writers are capable of that I wonder.

  2. You said it: 'enjoy owning it'. In my youth, Lord of The Rings. Sometime later that Stephen Hawking thing (the most unread book of all time? [Bible excluded]). There're loads of series of books that fit into a box which advantageously shows the spines in an attractive pattern. Will come up with evidence next time I'm at my friend ......'s house - has a lot of these, unread.