Rachel Neumeier

Fantasy and Young Adult Fantasy Author

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Actually unimaginable

From Book Riot: The Appeal of the Hypnotically Dull Novel

…some novels are compelling not in spite of their tedium, but—in a perverse way—because of this tedium. The novels of Nicholson Baker are a good case in point. These have the flimsiest of premises: in The Mezzanine, an office worker sees that one shoelace is more frayed than another, and ruminates over this for the entire book. In Room Temperature, a father feeding his newborn daughter allows his mind to wander. That’s it. Nothing happens. The books take place almost entirely in the unexciting narrators’ heads…and that’s precisely what makes them interesting. Tracing a chain of thoughts, and appreciating the simple curiosity that to me is one of the most enlivening aspects of human existence, is what these books (quietly) revel in.

Does this make sense to any of you?

I am tempted to get a sample of Room Temperature just to see if this could actually work. (The shoelace one creates no such impulse to experiment.)

Monotony in a novel can also feel deliberate, if it’s capturing the monotony of real life in a way that unrealistic fiction glosses over.

I don’t care whether the monotony in a novel feels, or in fact is, deliberate or accidental. I don’t care whether it captures the feel of real life in a way that unrealistic fiction, quote, glosses over, unquote. I cannot imagine deliberately setting out to be bored, or deliberately deciding to go on with a novel even though I am bored for page after page after (yawn, sleepy now) page.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate a quiet novel. Sometimes I do. There’s quiet and then there’s dull. The two words are not synonymous. For me, a hypnotically dull novel has no appeal whatsoever.

I suppose this is yet another reason literary novels appeal to some readers while others energetically run the other way.

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2 Comments Actually unimaginable

  1. SarahZ

    That sounds extremely unappealing. I can’t imagine ever choosing to read a book like that, when I could instead put on some silly tv show like Nailed It or Queer Eye. Having to read a book about someone’s frayed shoelace sounds like torture.

  2. Mary Catelli

    The hardest thing I ever wrote was Isabelle and the Siren.

    A short story. But Isabelle is clinically depressed. It was a NIGHTMARE to convey how dull she found everything without making the story dull.

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