Having just published Exile, I was interested to read in a couple of places that long novels are back in vogue. Kirsty Gunn in the Guardian pointed out that some very long novels are getting very positive buzz.
Someone named Garth Risk Hallberg just netted two million dollars in an auction of his manuscript. Apparently, his book is 900 pages long. I note with some interest that this books sounds sort of familiar to me. It is called City On Fire. This, naturally, brings to mind my own book, Smoke. The description I have of City on Fire includes the question: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse? That sure sounds a lot like one of the main issues in Exile: what exactly is going on at Phlogiston Fabricating? Congratulations to Mr. Hallberg for his great financial success. If he can spark interest in really long novels, so much the better.
My sense of the future of novels is that no one is going to read them. The few novels that do get read are likely to be very short. I think within a decade, a novel will need only comprise about 25-30,000 words. Anything longer than that will be called an epic.
I don't see how a generation raised on Twitter and SMS and email and all the rest will ever be able to concentrate long enough to read a 300,000+ word book. It just won't happen. Already, we see evidence that the brain itself is changing in response to non-stop bursts of very brief stimulation. This will necessarily mean that all forms of communication are going to get shorter. TV sitcoms will be 5-7 minutes long. A movie will be no more than 60 minutes. Long-reads in journals will comprise no more than a few hundred words.
So, as the novel flickers into obscurity, lets hope for a brief renaissance that will see books like Exile and City on Fire have their moment, as it were, in the sun.