La columna es del NYT:
"“No book worth its salt is meant to put you to sleep,” says the garrulous shoemaker who narrates the Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal’s “Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age” (1964), “it’s meant to make you jump out of bed in your underwear and run and beat the author’s brains out.” Thirty-three pages into what appears to be an unbroken highway of text, the reader might well wonder if that’s a mission statement or an invitation. “Dancing Lessons” unfurls as a single, sometimes maddening sentence that ends after 117 pages without a period, giving the impression that the opinionated, randy old cobbler will go on jawing ad infinitum. But the gambit works. His exuberant ramblings gain a propulsion that would be lost if the comma splices were curbed, the phrases divided into sentences. And there’s something about that slab of wordage that carries the eye forward, promising an intensity simply unattainable by your regularly punctuated novel.
Hrabal wasn’t the first to attempt the Very Long Sentence. The Polish novelist Jerzy Andrzejewski went even longer in “The Gates of Paradise” (1960), weaving several voices into a lurid and majestic 158-page run-on. (The novel actually consists of two sentences, the final one a mere five words long.) An old priest listens to the contradictory confessions of some apparently holy but actually just horny French teenagers marching toward Jerusalem in the 13th-century Children’s Crusade. A profusion of colons and dashes helps toggle among the multiple points of view, while repeated descriptions of crummy weather give the brain some breathing space. Every mention of the “long and arduous road” seems to comment on the enduring nature of the sentence itself. The descriptions of sex — e.g., “That’s why when we do it we can keep it going so long” — also gain a double meaning.
For a long time, Hrabal and Andrzejewski were the only practitioners of the sentence-long book I could find. Not many writers have had the nerve to go this route: you’re locked in, committed to a rhythm and a certain claustrophobia. But might the format also be liberating? Joan Didion told The Paris Review in 1978: “What’s so hard about that first sentence is that you’re stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you’ve laid down the first two sentences, your options are all gone.” Sticking to just one sentence, ironically, might keep your options perpetually open.
The most famous mega-sentence in literature comes at the end of the book, not the beginning. Molly Bloom’s monologue from “Ulysses” (1922) —36 pages in the thinly margined, micro-fonted 1986 single-volume corrected text (and actually two long sentences, thanks to an often-overlooked period 17 pages in) — sets an impossibly high standard for the art of the run-on. It breathlessly binds together all that comes before while nearly obliterating it, permanently coloring the reader’s memory in one final rush. It feels unstoppable, and then it stops.
Molly’s soliloquy is a touchstone for writers aiming to go long. A copy of “Ulysses” pops up in “Green Coaster,” the 33-page, single-sentence section that closes Jonathan Coe’s brilliant novel “The Rotters’ Club” (2001). (The BBC has reported that at 13,955 words, it is the longest sentence ever written in English.)
Joyce also makes a cameo in the most recent candidate for the absurdly exclusive Book-as-Sentence club, the French novelist Mathias Énard’s “Zone” (2008), just published in an English translation. At 517 pages, it’s far longer than the Hrabal and Andrzejewski combined, though its status as a true single sentence is compromised by 23 chapter breaks that alleviate eye strain. (If “Zone” qualifies, what about Samuel Beckett’s 147-page “How It Is” (1961), with its paragraphic chunks but complete absence of periods?) A bigger disqualification for Énard’s book, about a train journey, is that three of the chapters are passages from a book the narrator is reading — a mediocre short story ripe with periods. If only he’d packed some Hrabal.
Even if the World’s Longest Sentence record is fraught with asterisks — does Hrabal truly qualify, if there’s no period at the end? What about early Greek writing, which had no spaces between words? — the allure of the form is, well, longstanding. An 800-plus worder in Victor Hugo’s “Les Misérables” (1862) has sometimes (erroneously) been cited as the longest in French literature; its winding description of Louis Philippe as a ruler who hews to the middle of the road in every aspect (“well read and caring but little for literature,” “incapable of rancor and of gratitude”), damns the king’s modesty with the grandness of its design. Is it coincidence that, as Roger Shattuck points out, the longest sentence in Proust — 944 words — dissects the plight of the homosexual in society? And what about the last of the six immense paragraphs that constitute Gabriel García Márquez’s “Autumn of the Patriarch” (1975), one mammoth sentence concluding with “the good news that the uncountable time of eternity had come to an end”?
For some writers, a chapter-long sentence is eternity enough. The Swiss author Friedrich Dürrenmatt was inspired to write “The Assignment” (1986), his superbly paranoid late-career “novella in 24 sentences,” after listening to a recording of Glenn Gould playing the first 24 movements of Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier.” (At 129 pages, that’s an average of 5.375 pages per sentence.) Here, the constraint sets up the potential for improvisation off a single musical line, while also allowing for clean breaks. The American writer Laird Hunt consciously adapted Dürrenmatt’s method in “Ray of the Star” (2009), in which a traumatic episode shadows a shell-shocked man’s sojourn in an unnamed foreign city. The man suffers from restless leg syndrome, and the affliction’s self-engendering quality (“the greater his fatigue the more pronounced it grew”) finds a mirror in Hunt’s labyrinthine sentences.
The Very Long Sentence could be seen as a futile hedge against separation, an unwillingness to part from loved ones, the world, life itself. “I’m trying to say it all in one sentence, between one Cap and one period,” William Faulkner wrote to Malcolm Cowley in 1944. “I’m still trying to put it all, if possible, on one pinhead.” (Faulkner, no stranger to the mind-expanding possibilities of the very long sentence, was once credited with a 1,400-worder by the Guinness Book of World Records.) In this age of 140-character Twitter posts — not to mention a persistent undercurrent of minimalism in our literature — there’s something profoundly rejuvenating about the very long sentence. For the sake of the novel, and ourselves, let’s hope that Hrabal wasn’t being prophetic when he wrote, four decades ago, “People twitter away like magpies and don’t really care.”
Ed Park is the author of “Personal Days,” a novel that ends with a sentence over 16,000 words long."