Recently I was lucky enough to receive a copy of the much-anticipated new novel from Carlos Ruiz Zafon, The Labyrinth of Secrets. In it Daniel Sempere is now running Sempere & Sons bookshop. He is tormented by the truth surrounding his mother’s death. Then in walks Alicia Grys, who may be the key to Daniel unlocking his family’s past. At 811 pages it is not a slim tome and is certainly one that requires some dedicated reading time. It did get me thinking, (which is of course a dangerous thing). The average page count for a novel is about 400 pages (from a not very scientific internet search). So I could read two novels in the time it will take me to read The Labyrinth of Secrets (and with a TBR the size of a small mountain range, that is a something to consider).
So having arbitrarily deciding that anything over 500 pages constitutes a long novel I decided to see what is out there for those who might want to invest a little time in a more chunky book.
Starting with the babies of the group are those that are around 500 pages. It may tell an epic tale but at 512 pages The Iliad won’t be an epic challenger in the battle of the books and neither will Metamorphoses at 768 pages. There’s the rather wonderful The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. I was so wrapped up in the story the 528 pages seem to turn themselves. And that’s the joy of a chunky novel. If well executed the reader gets to hunker down and savour the world the author has created.
Moving up the page charts are those over 700 pages. The white whale and his nemesis Ahab fight it out over 786 pages in Moby Dick. Marching ahead of it in the page stakes is George Eliot’s Middlemarch at 880 pages, which itself lags behind Vanity Fair’s 912 pages. CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series isn’t known for holding back on the word count and the latest two in the series Lamentation (768) and Tombland (880) both give fans something to get their teeth into.
Then there are the behemoths. The ones that make your arms ache at the thought of holding them for any length of time and which bring on a desire to be marooned on a desert island for a couple of months to read in peace and quiet. The most obvious one, synonymous with being page heavy is of course War and Peace. At 1024 pages even the most determined and spine fastidious amongst us won’t be able to keep its spine without a crack. I read A Suitable Boy many years ago. I remember enjoying the novel but feeling slightly let down by the ending as it didn’t end as I wanted, some 1504 pages after I started.
Sometimes authors get a taste for the lengthier novel and make a habit of it. Stephen King is well-known for his word heavy literature, for example there’s The Stand (1344), It (1184) and 11/22/63 (752). George RR Martin gives his fans value for money with many epic tales, just look at A Song of Fire and Ice (912), A Feast for Crows (864), A Clash of Kings (928), A Dance with Dragons I and II (704) and (592) and Fire and Blood (736). Deborah Harkness’ All Souls Trilogy all ended up being over 500 pages each. The trilogy comprises of A Discovery of Witches (704) Shadow of Night (656) and The Book of Life (656), with A Discovery of Witches now a TV series. It’s also another one that I read and throughly enjoyed, barely noticing the page count.
There are the classics of course. Novels were often serialised in newspapers and magazines so the page count soon notched up. Dickens must have used his fair share of pens writing his well-known works. Bleak House (800), David Copperfield (1024), Little Dorrit (1024) and Dombey and Sons (848) are just a few examples. Alexandre Duma has two entries with The Count of Monte Cristo (928) and The Three Musketeers (736). Victor Hugo’s magnum opus, Les Miserables came in at 1232 pages making Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment seem tiny in comparison at 752 pages long.
There are oscar winners, Gone With the Wind (1024), box office winners, The Time Traveller’s Wife (528), Angels and Demons (624) and prize winners ,The Luminaries (848) and Wolf Hall (674).
Children’s fiction and YA fiction have their fair share of big books. JK Rowling managed to make four of her seven novels weigh in well over the 500 pages mark with Harry Potter and the Order of the Pheonix (816), Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (640), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (560) and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (640). Christopher Paolini’s Eragon (528) and Veronica Roth’s Insurgent (576) and Allegient (544) also fit the bill. Two of four of the Twilight saga by Stephanie Meyers came in over 500 pages each, those being Eclipse (576), Breaking Dawn (720) as did her standalone book The Host (656).
So if you fancy getting stuck into a heavily worded volume or two, here are a few (ok not a few) more suggestions.
Infinite Jest (1104)
A Little Life (736)
We That Are Young (503)
The Passage (1008)
Alias Grace (560)
The Blind Assassin (656)
East of Eden (736)
The Book Thief (560)
American Gods (736)
All the Light We Cannot See (544)
A Column of Fire (912)
The Pillars of Earth (1104)
The Poisonwood Bible (640)
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (624)
Anna Karenina (864)
The Name of the Wind (672)
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (1024)
Cloud Atlas (529)
The Woman in White (728)
The Secret History (660)
The Goldfinch (880)
A Short History of Nearly Everything (672)
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (624)
The Invention of Hugo Cabret (534)
The House of Leaves (736)
A Prayer for Owen Meaney (636)
The Mists of Avalon (1024)
Atlas, Shrugged (1184)
The Lord of the Rings (1178)
The Way of the Kings (608)
Don Quixote (992)
A Fine Balance (624)
A Place of Greater Safety (880)
An Instance of the Fingerpost (704)
Carter Beats the Devil (608)
Harlots Ghost (1168)
Life: A Users Manual (608)
The Magic Mountain (752)
The Tale of Genji (1216)
Clan of the Cave Bear (512)
(Of course all these page counts vary depending on the edition of the book in question.)
And if those aren’t long enough for you, there’s always the book listed as the Guinness world record holder for the most pages, Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust. It’s only 3553 pages long …
Do let me know if you have any favourite big books.
The Labyrinth of Secrets by Carlos Ruiz Zafon was published by W&N on 18 September 2018.