Weighing at nearly 700 pages it was always going to be a long read, but I'm a reasonably fast reader - a book a week is standard, so I didn't expect Last Night in Twisted River to go beyond a couple of weeks. It's been over a month, and I've only just finished. Phew.
There are two main reasons why it has taken so long. Firstly, I kept dropping off to sleep. Secondly, even when reading I was easily distracted by what was going on around me. I was trying to pin-point why, exactly, I was making such heavy work of reading the book - it's undoubtedly well written, the sentences flow, the images are arresting, the characters distinct people, yes, there's flashback and I was often confused as to when exactly we were which meant going over some pages a second time but that wouldn't entirely explain my distraction - and then it struck me: it was the omniscient authorial voice.
At the end of the book John Irvine talks about the writing process (the novel is about a writer who uses autobiography for his writing) and says that the omniscient authorial voice is out of fashion, but he likes the style and is going to carry on using it. Fair enough.
But to me, that voice distanced me from the characters. I never truly engaged with them and could have put the book down without reading to the end almost every moment. There were only about 20 pages when I was in danger of missing the bus stop and, in a book of nearly 700 pages, that seems a poor ratio. I persisted with reading because I usually do read to the end regardless, because a friend had rated the novel and because John Irvine is a great author.
It may be that intimacy with characters is fashionable and fashions can, and do, change. You can choose to write in whatever style you wish, and if that's with the magisterial voice common in the C19th then fine. There are readers who love that style. But, you should also be aware that it's a distancing voice and the current fashion is for something more intimate. That way, hopefully, you'll pass my bus stop test.
NEW!!! I've finally got round to organising some course dates....
How to WRITE a Novel: London 3rd May/Birmingham 7th May/
Oxford 8th May/Exeter 21st May/Bath 12th June
How to SELL a Novel: London 24th May/Exeter 4th June/
Bath 3rd July Details are on my website