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Size matters?

OK, size does matter. Well, it may do in certain circumstances. But in books? Is a blockbuster of many hundreds of pages any better than a slim volume containing less than 50,000 words?

On indie writer websites there often seems to be a boastful preoccupation with the sheer size of a work we are being urged to read. It is a case of emphasising quantity before quality or, as the old tailor of legend would say: “Ah, but feel with width.”

That’s not the view of esteemed best-selling author Ian McEwan who has suggested novels need to be shorter rather than longer if they are to claim the attention of today’s readers. “Very few really long novels earn their length,” McEwan told BBC Radio listeners. He said they always got his fingers twitching for a blue pencil to do some editing.

He admitted, however, that much modern writing was heading in the opposite direction and observed that Americans especially liked really huge novels. He certainly practices what he preaches; his latest book, The Children Act, runs to a scant 55,000 or so words.

However, as I found with McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, brevity does not always equate with pleasure, the one positive in this case being that the pain it inflicted was soon over.

Short or long, it is the quality that counts. At least a blockbuster makes a better doorstop than a mere  novella.

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