Thursday, April 30, 2015

Quantity with Quality

The Ten Long Novels

The following list contains the ten longest novels that I have read over my lifetime.  Starting in the Nineteen-sixties and continuing to this day I have read an average of about seventy books per year.  This has included books of many sizes but the ten longest books I have read range from 981 to 2,281 pages in length.  Some of these I have read multiple times, including Proust, Mann, Tolstoy, Rand , and Dickens.  There were another half dozen books that just missed the list ranging from 825 to 980 pages.  I have excluded "genre" novels thus you will not find The Lord of the Rings or The Foundation Trilogy.

There are two qualities that all of these novels have in common in addition to length:  They are all very good (even great) books and I enjoyed reading all of them (or I would not have finished them).  Among these novels there are additional aspects worth mentioning:  Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy has the distinction of being the longest novel that is not partitioned into separate volumes.  I believe that is a distinction that it still holds.  Robert Musil's novel has an additional 600 hundred pages of unfinished material that are not included in the three published volumes.  Writing the novel literally killed him.
I am not sure if length is an important measure of the worth of a novel, but I would recommend all of these and hope that you do not hold their length against them.

In Search of Lost Time by  Marcel Proust (two volumes, 1913-1927),  2281 pp.

Joseph and His Brothers by Thomas Mann (four volumes, 1933-1943), 1492 pp.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth (1993), 1474 pp.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1869), 1386 pp.

The Cairo Trilogy  by Naguib Mahfouz (three volumes, 1957),  1313 pp.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo (1862), 1194 pp.

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand (1957), 1168 pp.

The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil (three volumes, 1951),  1130 pp.

Snopes by William Faulkner (three volumes, 1931-1957), 1065 pp.

Bleak House by Charles Dickens (1853),  989 pp.

(Novels that came close, but did not make the top ten included From the Terrace,  Don Quixote, Middlemarch, David Copperfield, An American Tragedy, Tom Jones, and The Way We Live Now.)


Parrish Lantern said...

I've read 6 you've mentioned here, although the Dicken's I'm not a fan of.

Les Miserables, In Search of Lost Time, Joseph and His Brothers, War and Peace, & A Suitable Boy. Most were a long time ago, and I've read nothing of this kind of length for a few years, not sure why, unless I claim time as a factor.

Anonymous said...

I wish I could read 70 boos per year. How do you manage to read so many including all those behemoths?

James said...

Thanks for asking. I was surprised when I checked my results at Goodreads. I'm always reading multiple books. And most of them are a lot fewer pages than those on this list.

James said...


While I enjoy most Dickens Bleak House is not at the top of my list either; it's just his longest. I read or reread most of these over the past couple of decades. Most recently I reread Joseph and His Brothers last year.
I'm not planning any more books of this magnitude although I do have Roberto Bolano's 2666 in my tbr list (the paperback edition is only 1,875 pages).

Lory said...

Wow, impressive! the only one I have read is Bleak House. I'm always getting distracted by shorter books. Anna Karenina is on my list to read this year though.

Parrish Lantern said...

2666 is a good read, but then I've liked most of Bolano's oeuvre

Sharon Henning said...

I've read War and Peace (all time favorite!) and Les Mis (another big favorite). I have Snopes but have not read it yet. I really have been meaning to read Proust but other books keep getting in the way.

Brian Joseph said...

I love lists like this. Not long ago I tried informally compile my own similar one. I need to formally do so however to ensure that I really have not missed anything.

Out of your list I have read, Les Miserables, Atlas Shrugged and Bleak House.

I just completed Antony Trollope's The Last Chronicle of Barset which would end up at the bottom of your list at 928 pages.

James said...


I have the same problem with some books getting in the way of others that I would really like to read. I guess the time has to be right, although I'm with you on War and Peace and would make time to reread it even if other merely good books had to wait.

James said...


Lists can be fun and useful thinking of books that were memorable.
I could add The Last Chronicle of Barset to my supplemental list of books that almost made the top ten. It would be right next to The Way We Live Now.
Since you like Trollope you might want to try John O'Hara (most of his novels are average in length) for he is a similar chronicler of society; in his case mid-twentieth century Pennsylvania. His first novel, Appointment in Samarra is a great place to start.

James said...


Thanks for the recommendation for 2666. I'm afraid I exaggerated its' length. It is only 900 pages long; even more reason not to delay reading it.

James said...


I have the same issue you do with some books getting in the way of others that I've been meaning to read.
Anna Karenina is another novel that belongs in the next tier of nine hundred plus page books.

mel u said...

I would for sure have on my list also Clarissa by Samuel Richardson at 1534 pages and Against the Day by Thomas Pynchon at 1104, both in Penquin Paper Back Editions.

James said...


Against the Day is on my tbr list so I may get to it (someday). But I think I'd prefer to reread Tom Jones than tackle Clarissa.

mel u said...

James, if you have not yet read Fielding's Shamela p, about fifty pages, you are in for a great treat.