If you want to write a novel, read several. No, actually, make that read many. This is what all writing teachers and writers will tell you.
Writing novels was never much a part of my game plan, but with continued practice and a few dozen short stories and flash fiction, I feel the confidence to tackle something much longer. I tell myself I’ve now read enough novels, (not because I wanted to be a writer, but because I’m a reader, and even today I’m more of a reader than a writer) so maybe I could start one. Even finish it.
And then I come across a novel like the Finkler’s Question by Howard Jacobson. It is a Booker Prize winner, and heads much older and wiser than me have called it a wise book.
So off I go, and immediately find myself plodding. It is brilliant writing, no mistake, I love the understated sense of humor, I come to see the three main characters (Finkler and Libor), two Jewish, one (Tresolve) trying to be a Jew when he is not. When I make myself read it, I find I like it, but only in parts. It is a tad more political than humorous, and I don’t care much about the characters one way or the other.
The more Jacobson goes into Tresolve’s obsession with Jewishness, (intensified by being mugged by a woman who he imagines calls him a Jew) the more I find that this novel, which to me at least is essentially about man’s (preoccupation with, insecurity of, and quest for) identity, could have been a short story. Or a novella at the most. I can’t help imagining how Jacobson could have wrapped it up within 6000 words, and I would have got his story. Not missed much…unless of course I were specifically interested in the whole Judaic history, culture, politics and conflict. Which I’m not.
I’m putting this down to my probable lack of depth or literariness (as a reader and writer) as well as my current phase of life where I always seem to be chasing something (my pet fish, groceries, relatives, writing).
But a part of me wonders how the story of a novel is different from that of a short story. Which stories can never go longer than a short stories, and which need the breadth of novels? Have you read Finkler’s Question? What do you think of it?
Blog friend and awesome writer J.C. Martin would give us tips on writing Flash Fiction this coming Wednesday, so don’t miss out Writer’s Wednesday this week! And on Friday, author of Being Human, Patricia Lynne is hosting me at her blog, so come meet me there!
Of course, if you’re a fiction writer, please sign up for the Rule of Three! Not only will it be oodles of fun, there are some cool prizes too.