Some authors write almost nothing but epic fiction — long, intricate, challenging, ambitious books that take years to complete. Think Marcel Proust (In Search of Lost Time); Murasaki Shikibu (The Tale of Genji); Donna Tartt (just three novels — including The Goldfinch — since 1992); Jonathan Franzen (Freedom, etc.); James Clavell (Shogun, etc.); Samuel Richardson (Clarissa, etc.); and a few others.
But most authors — including those known for doorstop books — occasionally change things up with shorter novels. Even Charles “The Tome King” Dickens wrote the occasional modest-length work such as A Christmas Carol and Hard Times.
As did Leo Tolstoy, whose canon includes not only the lengthy Anna Karenina and the very lengthy War and Peace, but novellas such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich, The Kreutzer Sonata, and Hadji Murat.
The same can be said for George Eliot, whose Silas Marner is quite brief compared to her hefty novels such as Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda; Wilkie Collins, whose A Rogue’s Life is many fewer pages than The Woman in White and Armadale; John Steinbeck, who mixed sweeping novels such as The Grapes of Wrath and East of Eden with shorter fare such as Cannery Row; and James Michener, who wrote many huge fictional works (think Hawaii) but also relatively quick-to-read novels such as Caravans.
And though those books are barely remembered now, Miguel de Cervantes penned a number of shorter novels in addition to his lengthy masterpiece Don Quixote.
Heck, most authors need a change of pace (writing one epic after another can lead to burnout). And sometimes writers just require 200 pages or so to say what they want to say in a particular book.
The idea for this post occurred to me last month when I was reading Neil Gaiman’s interesting fantasy novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane — a shorter and simpler (but not simple) novel than his deep, complex American Gods.
Your favorite authors who go the mostly epic route or the change-of-pace route?
My 2017 literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.
In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — which covers everything from a July 4th parade to commemorating a lost African-American landmark — is here.