"No iron can pierce the heart with such force as a period put just at the right place." –Isaac Babel
Though we prefer different genres, my husband and I sometimes recommend something we like to one another. Lately he hasn’t been recommending much. In fact, he’s been frustrated with his reading selections and has even quit reading a book after only 22 pages. The reason—long sentences.
In Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, he showed me a sentence that started in the middle of Page 391 and ended at the top of page 393. I was going to count the words but I kept losing my place. I can tell you, however, there were about 43 commas and 5 semicolons before the period made its appearance.
Though I tried reading the passage, I never made my way through it. It seemed more like an action scene than a stream of consciousness, but I haven’t read the book so I can’t be sure. In other words, I couldn’t figure out why Rushdie didn’t break the thought down into a more readable format. Perhaps that’s simply his voice.
That sentence turned out to be short in comparison to the next one my husband bought to my attention.
In 2666 by Robert Bolaño, a sentence began near the top of page 18 and did not see a period ending it until near the end of page 22. (That’s about the length of my chapters in The Ride.) I tried to read this passage as well. I couldn’t. I couldn’t even keep my interest going long enough to count commas. During a cursory glance, I didn’t notice any semicolons and I saw only one colon.
After encountering that sentence, my husband lost all interest in the book and returned it to the shelf unread.
I can’t help but wonder what makes a writer think it’s necessary to use…a run-on sentence seems like an understatement, but I don’t know what else to call these examples.
I did a minimal amount of research trying to figure out the purpose for long sentences. I couldn’t find any reason. I did discover, however, that long sentences are nothing new. Supposedly, a sentence in Les Miserables by Victor Hugo is 823 words long; Ullyses by James Joyce has 4,391 words in one sentence; Jonathan Coe’s, The Rotter’s Club has a 13,955 word sentence; and, The Blah Story, Volume 4, by Nigel Tomm is 732 pages long and consists of only one sentence with 469,375 words.
I don’t think I’ll be picking up a copy Tomm’s book for my husband’s upcoming birthday.
Do long sentences drive you nuts? Can you see any reason to use them? Have you read anything lately by an author who embraces them?
On Saturday, May 1, I’ll be a guest at Karen Cioffi – Writing for Children blog. I’ll be talking about first sentences in books for children. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to visit.
Thanks for stopping by today.
Tags: Isaac Babel , Salman Rushdie, Robert Bolano, Nigel Tomm, long sentences, run on sentences,