Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Hyper-focused Novel

How do you feel about the hyper-focused novel--or at least that's how I think of it. Does it bother you if a book is 300 pages about one thing. Well, not exactly one thing, but about a single problem in its various manifestations and complications.

Let's say the problem is alcoholism. And the alcoholism of the central character ruins lives and leads to criminal activity. Would you need a break from his problem? Or would such a break take you out of that little world the writer has created.

Of course, all of it depends on how good the writing is and how interesting the permutations are. But on the whole, can you take 300 pages of misery with a few humorous episodes still related to the general problem. Thoughts?


Charles Gramlich said...

I typically don't read those kinds of novels. and if I start one I usually regret it. I had not heard the term Hyper-focused but that makes perfect sense for this type of story.

R/T said...

Well, Melville devoted 600+ pages to the single-minded pursuit of a whale. Yes, I know there are multiple themes in the novel, but MODY-DICK really is a "hyper-focused" novel, and a magnificent one at that.

R/T said...

CORRECTION: MOBY not MODY (and God knows what that typo suggests).

Patti said...

Moby (or Melville) may be the ultimate exception.

Anonymous said...

Probably why I couldn't finish Under The Volcano

Patrick O

Richard Prosch said...

It might depend on number of characters. Once a novel has that many pages, I'd absolutely need some additional characters with their adjoining subplots. LES MISERABLES is focused on Jean Valjean and Javert for example, but there are many characters and situations in the 1000+ pages.

Naomi Johnson said...

Sir Paul reading... that does lift my spirits.

Mike Dennis said...

Good post, Patti. Quite often, the central character in those "hyper-focused" books is hard to root for. And I think that's the real problem, not the focusing. A character can be unpleasant, murderous, vile, etc, but if the author can somehow fashion the character so the reader can root for him, or at the very least, care about him, despite his bad side, then the book becomes readable.

Therein lies the real challenge for the author.

It's just my opinion.

George said...

Patricia Highsmith's work always seems "hyper-focused" to me. Of course, she was obsessive-compulsive in real life so it shouldn't be surprising it spilled over into her books and short-stories.

John McFetridge said...

Yes, 300 pages on one thing is too long. It would require some incredible insight on the part of the author.

But I really like 200 page novels on one thing. A good, solid 200 pages on alcoholism could be a fantastic novel.

Last year I read Castle Freeman's novel Go With Me, 160 solid pages.

One of my all-time favourite novels is Roddy Doyle's, The Woman Who Walked Into Doors, 226 pages about an abusive relationship. I read it in one sitting because I couldn't put it down but I think if I'd stopped part-way I wouldn't have been able to pick it up again. If that makes any sense.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Loved Go With Me, and a perfect length. And that makes perfect sense. Once apart from it, much like the abusive person, there's not going back.
Under the Volcano was unreadable for me too.
It needs to be so exciting you forget your loathing, perhaps.
Highsmith exactly, George.
Subplots help. But I think some writers have very small casts to their detriment sometimes.

the walking man said...

Not my kind of reading Patti...I see enough of it in reality without spending my away time there.