Blog Excerpts

"It Has a Lot of Commas"

From Three Percent, the blog of the University of Rochester publishing house Open House Books, comes word of a stupendous literary feat. The French writer Mathias √Čnard has published a 517-page novel entitled "Zone," and the whole thing (aside from a few pages of flashbacks) consists of a single 150,000-word sentence! Don't know French? No problem: Open House is publishing an English translation, due out in 2010.

Press director Chad Post was recently interviewed by the Chicago Tribune about the book, which he swears isn't just gibberish. "It's told from inside this guy's mind as he takes a train trip," Post told the Tribune. "It has a lot of commas." And a lot of colons and semicolons, we'd imagine.

According to the Tribune, "Zone" now tops the list for the longest sentence appearing in a work of literature. Here are the top four:

1. 150,000 words in "Zone," by Mathias Enard (published in French in 2008)

2. 40,000 words in "Gates of Paradise," by Jerzy Andrzejewski (Polish, 1960)

3. 30,000 words in "Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age," by Bohumil Hrabal (Czech, 1964)

4. 13,995 words in "The Rotters' Club," by Jonathan Coe (English, 2001)

NOTE: The above list does not include "The Blah Story," by Nigel Tomm, which has a sentence of reportedly 2.4 million words that rambles through Volumes 16, 17, 18 and 19. It was left off because (a) the book is self-published, (b) about a million of those words are "blah" and (c) its literary value is highly questionable. An excerpt: "As no one was blah any blah to blah, and no one blah needed blah, blah quietly blah blah ..."

Want to read an excerpt of the English translation? Check it out here. This is how it starts:

Everything is more difficult when you're an adult, everything rings falser a little metallic like the sound of two bronze weapons clashing they make us come back to ourselves without letting us get out of anything it's a fine prison, you travel with a lot of things, a child you didn't carry a little Czech crystal star a talisman next to the snow you watch melting, after the reversal of the Gulf Stream prelude to the Ice Age, stalactites in Rome and icebergs in Egypt, it keeps raining in Milan I missed the plane I have one thousand five hundred kilometers on the train ahead of me I have six cents left, this morning the Alps sparkled like knives, I was trembling with exhaustion in my seat without being able to close my eyes like an aching drug addict, I talked to myself out loud on the train, or quietly, I feel very old I want the train to go on go on let it go to Istanbul or Syracuse let it go to the end at least let it know how to go to the end of the journey I thought oh I should be pitied I took pity on myself on that train whose rhythm opens your soul more surely than a scalpel, I let everything flow by everything flees everything is more difficult these days along rail lines I'd like to let myself be led simply from one place to another as is logical for a traveler like a blind man led by the arm when he crosses a dangerous street but I'm just going from Paris to Rome, and to the main train station in Milan, to that Temple of Akhenaton for locomotives where a few traces of snow remain despite the rain I turn round in circles, I look at the immense Egyptian columns supporting the ceiling, I have a little drink out of boredom, at a café looking out on the tracks the way others do on the sea, it doesn't do me any good it wasn't the time for libations there are so many things that divert you from the path, that make you lost and alcohol is one of them it makes the wounds deeper when you find yourself alone in an immense frozen train in Trieste or in Croatia...


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Comments from our users:

Thursday December 11th 2008, 9:09 AM
Comment by: Susan D.
Isn't this really sort of silly? One could easily break this down into individual sentences instead of running it on and on like this. I'm presuming the writer was making some sort of point, but think that trying to read through this book would be more of a chore than a pleasure. Sometimes doing the 'most' of something just means you've been acting sillier a little longer than anyone else.
Thursday December 11th 2008, 9:31 AM
Comment by: jean K. (Wyndmoor, PA)
I am an editor and edit a number of business papers with paragraph long sentences. I like to say that the subject is here in Philadelphia and the predicate is in Hawaii.
Thursday December 11th 2008, 12:33 PM
Comment by: Don H. (Antioch, CA)Top 10 Commenter
This really isn't a single sentence, I think. It just is missing some punctuation.
Friday December 12th 2008, 8:19 AM
Comment by: bluefade (Chagrin Falls, OH)
I'm terribly sorry but this is literary rubbish. I easily and immediately placed punctuation where it should be. It was very distracting to read. I don't know why anyone would waste their time reading such a long sentence. On the other hand I haven't had my morning coffee yet!
Saturday December 13th 2008, 1:54 PM
Comment by: Jane B. (Winnipeg Canada)Top 10 Commenter
I'm in agreement with the others. This is a long, drawn-out run-on sentence which would go back to the writer as needing punctuation if the editor were responsible.

As is, I cannot help but think that this was written on a bet.
Sunday December 14th 2008, 7:18 PM
Comment by: K
I think these kinds of things need to be done, but I don't need to read them.
Tuesday December 16th 2008, 9:20 AM
Comment by: Manuela F. (Washington, DC)
It may be a world record sentence, but I don't want to read it. After about 100 words I reached for my red pen...
Tuesday December 23rd 2008, 12:04 PM
Comment by: Marian C. (Murphys, CA)
In about the fifth line from the very end, he captures my mood precisely when he writes "I have a little drink out of boredom" I find this rather dangerous writing for those of us easily bored.
Tuesday December 23rd 2008, 2:34 PM
Comment by: Garrett H. (Gervais, OR)
This isn't one sentence, but several thousand comma splices. I was really hoping for more subordinate clauses, interjections, and smart uses of our good friend "and". As for a literary feat, didn't Joyce and Wolf already perfect streaming-consciousness?

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Daphne's got advice for crafting long (if not super-long) sentences.
At the other end of the spectrum: the super-short genre of TwitterLit.
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How to find the rhythmic pulse of your writing.