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HOW MUCH STORY SHOULD YOU TELL?

date: 09 June 2016 at 11:08:16

Some books are big, thick, and heavy...

The problem is that big, thick books can become heavy in a negative sense.

It isn’t just a question of the physical weight you’re holding in your hand, the book spine bending and breaking as you leaf through the pages. It’s more a matter of information overload, the risk of growing bored as the reader struggles with too many names, too many scenes and more plot twists than he/she can remember with ease.

There used to be a wonderful book show on Italian tv called The Art of Not Reading. Two Italian crime writers, Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentino, talked about literature and books, the great classics especially, pulling volumes from their bookshelves in an informal and light-hearted way that was truly entertaining. One of the things they used to do – I remember Don Quixote getting this treatment – was to weigh the book on a pair of scales before going on to discuss whether the book was too long, too big, too heavy, and so on.

Cervantes got a drubbing, I recall.

The Cartel by Don Winslow is a big, thick, heavy novel.

I haven’t placed it on the scales, but it would weigh in as one of the heaviest books I have read in quite some time. And yet, it isn’t heavy in the negative sense. Not at all! Indeed, I would say that it is one of the finest books that I have read recently. Okay, there are too many characters, too many awkward Mexican names and nicknames. There are twists and counter-twists galore, and the story rages on and on for over 6oo pages, but... it isn’t heavy.

So, what’s the secret?

Well, it seems to me, quite simply, that Don Winslow set out to write a big book in every sense – a sprawling tale of drugs and crime, senseless murder and senseless revenge, and it all ties together in the end, because the story is so big, and its core is so personal, as one man sets out to wreak his just revenge on all those who have done harm to those whom the hero loves, respects, and has lost in the war against drugs. Indeed, there is hardly a wasted word.

How much does The Cartel weigh?

That’s what Fruttero and Lucentini would have asked as they pulled out the scales.

The answer is simple.

It’s worth its weight in gold.

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