Tenet, tenors and the modern novel…….


There was a splendid article in The Irish Independent the other day. Well, like most people who praise newspaper articles, I simply mean that I agree with it. The tenor of the article was…

Right, tenor meaning general sense, comes from the Latin tenorem meaning contents or direction. That comes from tenere meaning to hold (as in a tenacious tenant in an untenable tenement). Meanwhile a singer holds a note and that’s the reason that the tenor of an article is not necessarily Pavarotti.

…where was I? Oh yes, modern novels. Too long.

I look, as I say, at the house bricks that pass for novels these days and I think to myself that life is too short, and if The Blind Assassin, Freedom and Infinite Jest ares really that good, then they ought to have a copy in Heaven.  And are they really that much better than Macbeth, Death in Venice and the Great Gatsby? Does the author really have that much more to say?

When I go into a bookshop the first thing I look for is not the title, the cover or the blurb: it’s the spine. I like my books like I like my women: slim, beautiful and inexpensive.

Am I alone in this? Does nobody else quail and quake at the sight of those obese tomes that win all the prizes? People like me are probably a forgotten and unexploited market. The publisher even saves on paper and ink: it’s win-win.

What’s depressing is that if Camus sent L’Etranger or The Fall to the a publishers today he would be told that books ought to be more than 70,000 words and that 60,000 is the absolute minimum. And his manuscript would be thrown into the bin of unpublishables, along with Notes From Underground and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Woe, woe and thrice woe as the late and lamented Frankie Howard would say.

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