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An incredibly long book could win our premier literary prize…

Judges on the Man Booker Prize panel must be gluttons for self-punishment: the longlisted novel by Richard House, The Kills, comprises a whopping 1024 pages, all to be reread if it’s chosen for the shortlist of six.

Not that there’s much wrong with the book, other than the precious time it consumes. Jake Kerridge assures us in his Daily Telegraph review that it’s more digestible than we would imagine, being effectively four thrillers in one volume. He suggests that it would be a perfect replacement for our five or six ‘holiday luggage’ thrillers, clearly implying that the reading time will come to about the same.

But just how long does he think our holidays are? There’s no way I could get through a work the size of The Kills, nor five or six slimmer thrillers, in a ten day trip – unless I ditched sightseeing, walking, people-watching and all the other pleasures that make holidays worth taking.

I’ve long assumed that reviewers skim read. But the Telegraph man’s confident remarks about digestibility suggest he read it ‘properly’, as he wouldn’t otherwise be in a position to judge.

Truer to type is The Spectator’s Matthew Parris. In one of those ubiquitous ‘summer holiday reading’ features, he wrote that he was going to enjoy a memoir he’d had to read hastily for book review purposes earlier in the year. To be rereading so soon strongly suggests that his original priority had been fact finding, at the expense of absorption and pleasure.

Across the developed world, it wouldn’t surprise me if reading speeds have gathered pace. Since the advent of the internet and the rolling subtitles of 24 hour TV news, we’re all primed for taking in large amounts of information in a short space of time.

Literate people of an earlier period in human history would find The Kills a laborious undertaking, and not just because of all that unwieldy papyrus to unravel: they customarily read out loud, even with no audience, which slows things considerably.

painting, woman reading

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