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Literary Gimmick or Legitimate Device?-The One-Sentence Novel

June 19, 2018

The only reason I know about this book is because a website article billed it as a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL.  That was a selling point in the headline.  It’s a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL!!!  I usually don’t ALL CAP stuff, and I don’t usually use a bunch of exclamation points, but I think a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL is worth both.  I’m talking about a book called Solar Bones by Mike McCormack.   At first, I wasn’t sure that this book would have been taken seriously because of a gimmick like the ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, but Solar Bones has won a bunch of awards (especially in Ireland), so I guess somebody in the literary community thinks highly of it.

At first glance, Solar Bones looks like poetry to me.  There’s lots of repetition, the lines are uneven but appear as stanzas mixed in with prose-looking paragraphs.  There’s no punctuation or capital letters used to begin clear thoughts.

When I read Solar Bones as a poem, it makes sense.  When I read it as a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, then it’s almost gibberish.  I can understand why it was promoted as a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL.  When you announce that a book is a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, curious people will want to read it.  And it worked with me.  I thought, a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL… I bet that sucks to read.  But I looked at it anyway

I don’t know if Solar Bones is any good or not.  I admit that in certain matters, I can be literal.  There are some nuances I pick up on and others that go way past me.  There’s a part of me that thinks literary authors write borderline gibberish just to see what they can get away with.  I think that with art too.  If enough critics refer to a dot as brilliant artwork, then enough common people might believe it so that the dot becomes valuable.  I’m not saying this happens; I’m just wondering if this happens.

I mean, James Patterson writes garbage novels that become bestsellers because his name on the cover means (to some people) that the book will be worth reading.  This can work the other way too.  If enough literary critics say that the ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL is brilliantly written, then it’s brilliant to a bunch of other people who might not understand they’re being scammed.

Don’t let me try to persuade you.  Here’s an excerpt:

yes, I know this man and I know his sister Eithne and I knew his mother and father before him and all belonging to him

or more intimately

of course I know him-Marcus Conway- he lives across the fields from me, I can see his house from the back door

or more adamantly

why wouldn’t I know him, Marcus Conway the engineer, I went to school with him and played football with him-we wore the black and gold together

What do you think?  Does that look like poetry?  Or can you see that as being part of ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL?

When I read this, I saw a couple logical sentence breaks.  To me, this isn’t a long sentence.  It’s an interesting style, maybe, but it’s not a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL.  Maybe somebody will claim it’s a run-on sentence, but that’s an incorrectly written sentence, and any uneducated hack can do that (except maybe the part about making an entire novel out of it).

If Solar Bones had been promoted as a 270+ PAGE POEM, I would have thought, I’ve already read The Iliad and The Odyssey… I think I’ll pass.  Therefore, I believe the ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL was a brilliant marketing campaign to turn a long poem into a groundbreaking, world record breaking sentence.  But it’s really a poem.

The ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL isn’t the worst idea I’ve seen for a book.  A long time ago, some guy wrote a novel that didn’t include the letter E.  It was a great gimmick but a lousy book.  I even called it the Worst Book Idea Ever!   I think I hurt somebody’s feelings when I did that.  I didn’t mean to.  I forget sometimes that words can hurt, whether they’re in poetry, a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, or an obscure blog post.

*****

What do you think?  Is Solar Bones really a ONE -SENTENCE NOVEL, or is this just poetry promoted as a gimmick, or is it something in between?

13 Comments
  1. I vote for gimmick. Then again, I’m currently slogging through a book where I feel totally scammed by “professional reviewers” who called it a “miracle” of a book and “awe-inducing” whereas I’m pretty sure it’s mostly just a mediocre novel that received heavy promotion so I am feeling pretty antagonistic toward so-called literary critics right now.

    • Yeah, anytime you see a book that’s called a “miracle” or “awe-inducing,” it’s probably overrated, even if it’s an okay book.

  2. Certainly there are sentences there, plural. It’s neither. It’s a regular novel in which he left out the punctuation.

  3. It’s not poetry. At least that excerpt. And I was going to say the same thing as above — it’s not one sentence either when you’re just leaving out the punctuation.

    • When I saw this was called a ONE-SENTENCE NOVEL, I thought it was going to be a string of dependent clauses and prepositional phrases that were woven in an intricate way. That would have been more of an accomplishment, I think.

  4. Definitely a gimmick. The excerpt in you post is just gibberish to me and boring gibberish at that but then again what do I know 😉

  5. gimmick assuredly

  6. If the extract is a reflection of the rest of the book, it isn’t a one sentence novel. It’s just a novel without punctuation which just makes it hard to read. Good marketing ploy though – wonder what its numbers are?

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