Wednesday, 12 February 2014


Long reads are having a moment. After dabbling with the slim, the slight, the so short it's barely even a novella (hello, Julian Barnes), the doorstop is back in business. Last week, Eleanor Catton became the youngest ever Man Booker prize winner with the longest ever book, The Luminaries, a mighty 832 pages. While this week saw the publication of Donna Tartt's third - and heftiest, at 782 pages - The Goldfinch. This, more than any autumn for a long time, is the season of the storyteller. So, if you're stuck for something to do with that extra hour (hardly likely, I know), here are five of my favourite long reads to lose yourself in...

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert - a comparatively weedy 512 pages

Yes, yes, I know what you're thinking; I hated Eat, Pray, Love too. But set that cynicism aside because this saga-like story will surprise you. Starting in 1800 it charts the life of Alma Whittaker, a female scientist studying moss (stay with me) and developing her own survival of the fittest-esque theory, unbeknownst to her, in parallel with Charles Darwin. From sexuality and desire to spirituality and science to, of course, the struggle of women for intellectual fulfilment, all of life is here.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, Susanna Clark - 782 pages

One of my favourite books, Susanna Clarke's 2005 historical fantasy is set in a napoleonic England where magic once existed and two magicians (Mr Norrell and his erstwhile protege, Jonathan Strange) now battle for supremacy. This truly enchanting read is about to be turned into a BBC drama series, so now is a good time to read it.

War & Peace, Leo Tolstoy - 1300 pages

One of those 'much lied about at dinner parties' books, War And Peace, despite its daunting thousand-plus pagination, really does reward reading. A sweeping family saga revolving around the Bolkonsky and Rostov families, and set against the wider back drop of St Petersburg between 1805 and 1812, it is often lauded as the greatest novel ever written. (Unless you're feeling particularly intellectual - or bilingual - I advise you not to pick an edition where the French parts are actually in French. The footnotes are a killer, particularly on kindle.)

The Crimson Petal and the White, Michael Faber - 822 pages

The vivid tale of the life and times of Sugar, a nineteenth century prostitute with a reading habit and her struggle to balance financial security with the perceived dishonesty of her life. Colourful, graphic (no sexual position or resulting unpleasant condition is spared), bursting with life and utterly engrossing. If you thought the Downton rape scene was pushing it, steer clear.

Bleak house, Charles Dickens - 900+pages depending which edition you read

If you're looking for a big book - big themes, big characters, just plain BIG - you can't go far wrong with Dickens. Bleak house - first published in twenty instalments in 1852 - has all the Dickens hallmarks and more: the mysterious parentage of Esther Summerson, me menacing baddie, in the form of lawyer Tulkinghorn, the nice but hopeless Richard Carstone. And just where does Lady Dedlocke fit in?

(This blog was first published on Bazaar on Books blog,, 23 October 2013)

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