Five Doorstopping Books I’ve Read

I’m more of a novella than a doorstopper reader but now and again one comes along that sounds irresistible, a novel you can lose yourself in. Your definition and mine may differ but anything over 400 pages has me worrying about whether at least 100 of those could have been cut by a discerning Cover image for The Blind Light by Stuart Everseditor. The five books that follow are well over that threshold but with not a hint of bagginess. All have links to reviews on this blog, three of them made it on to my books of the year lists.

One of those three was Stuart Evers’ The Blind Light written with such a pace I practically inhaled its 544 pages. Spanning six decades, Evers’ novel tells the story of post-war Britain through two families, both from opposite ends of the social spectrum, beginning with the friendship between Drummond and Carter formed during their National Service training in 1959 and ending in 2019 when the consequences of compromises made come home to roost. It’s a richly textured, immersive novel, full of convincing characters whose stories echo that of their changing country. The Cold War’s background hum is particularly well done.

Opening in 1947, Lars Saabye Christensen’s Echoes of the City also explores social history, telling the story of post-war OsloCover for Echoes of the City by Lars Saabye Christensen through the Kristoffersen family and their neighbours. Ewald works for an advertising agency while his wife Maj looks after seven-year-old Jesper and volunteers for the local Red Cross. Over the next few years Jesper will display a talent for the piano, Maj will shine as the Red Cross treasurer and Ewald will discover just how much he loves his family. Christensen’s narrative is infused with a gentle, affectionate humour coupled with poignancy as the characters’ stories unfold. Echoes of the City is the first in a trilogy the second part of which, the equally enjoyable and doorstopping, Friendship, has also been translated into English. I’m eagerly awaiting the third.

Cover imageNathan Hill’s The Nix is a big novel in every sense of the word. Through the story of a mother and the son she left when he was eleven, it explores the panorama of American life from the heady idealism of the ‘60s to 2011, the world still reeling from the global financial crisis. The writing is striking from the get-go and it’s very funny: Hill hurls well-aimed barbs at all manner of things from social media to advertising, publishing to academia, to mention but a few. Careful plotting ensures that each piece of the puzzle slots neatly into place until both Faye and Samuel’s stories are told. It ends with fresh starts, a much-needed reminder that despite all that’s gone before there will always be both redemption and hope somewhere in the world, albeit personal rather than political.

Surrounded by a great deal pf pre-publication brouhaha, Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists had my hype antennae twitchingCover image before I read it. It’s a novel with a very clever hook: what would you do with your life if you knew the date of your death? Would you choose to live it to the full, or would you keep yourself as safe as you could? In other words, would you choose to live or merely to survive? This is the conundrum for the Gold siblings whose stories unfold as they move inexorably towards the dates appointed to each of them at their childhood visit to a fortune teller. Entertaining, moving and thought-provoking it’s a compassionate and satisfyingly immersive novel.

If satisfyingly immersive is what you’re after, I’d also recommend Amor Towles’ The Lincoln Highway, a 1950s American Cover image for The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towlesodyssey which takes three young men and an eight-year-old boy on a series of adventures beginning in Nebraska. Seventeen-year-old Emmett has been released from Salina youth detention centre keen to start a new life with his kid brother, but Billy has other ideas which involve driving the Lincoln Highway to San Francisco in the hope of finding their mother. When Duchess and Woolly turn up, newly escaped from Salina, Billy and Emmett find themselves travelling in the opposite direction towards New York City. Towles’ novel is a gripping, hugely entertaining take on the Odyssey, full of suspense, with a cast of engaging characters of which Billy is the undoubted star. One to tuck yourself up with and forget the world

Any chunky novels you’d like to add to my list?

If you’d like to explore more posts like this, I’ve listed them here.

47 thoughts on “Five Doorstopping Books I’ve Read”

  1. I’m like you and try to avoid doorstop books but a few years ago took Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH with me on a trip to Amsterdam. Of course it was way too big to carry around for coffee and lunch stops! But I did enjoy the book when I finally got to read it.

  2. Well, I just finished Alex Haley’s “Queen” which was 915 pages of history from exile from Ireland through the American Civil War to the emancipation of enslaved people and the restitution of the South, and a couple of years ago I read his better-known “Roots”. Two other biggies I love are Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy” and Helen Hooven Santmeyer’s “And Ladies of the Club” and we can probably add Iris Murdoch’s “The Philosopher’s Pupil”.

          1. A Suitable Boy us a great novel. You have to make time for it, but it is richly deserving. The TV series did not do it justice.

  3. I’ll add Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke. One I’m itching to re-read (if I can make time). Also Psalms for the End of the World by Cole Haddon which I read last year and loved.

  4. I know what you mean about big books often having room for some thinning by a good editor. I have just finished a chunky farming memoir Buckets of Porridge by Peter Jennings, I was hesitant at its length, but it flowed well.

    1. If done with care they can be wonderfully immersive, can’t they, but that’s so often not the case. Thanks for the recommendation. Glad it worked out for you.

  5. I used to read chunky books (in fact I read Wuhan by John Fletcher in 2021 and it was well over 700 pages), but these days like you, I prefer slimmer volumes. I’d make an exception for something very appealing, and certainly for C J Sansom’s books. I second Annabel’s recommendation of Jonathan Strange (although I haven’t got to my revisit yet, and it is staring at me as I type from my book case).

    Echoes of the City from you list seems very intriguing and one I’m definitely going to have to look up.

    1. I imagine C J Sansom’s books are the kind you race through regardless of their length. I loved Echoes of the City, and Friendship, too. The third in the trilogy seems long overdue.

  6. I’m in total agreement with your first two sentences Susan, but these all sound very tempting! The Blind Light is particularly appealing. I’ll be posting on a chunkster myself this week 😉

  7. mementominnie

    I despise novellas..make your mind up.,cut the fluff and produce a short story or grow some and produce a novel.I love chunky books..see my board on Pinterest.

  8. I loved The Nix and The Immortalists, and have been meaning to get the Evers out from the library. These days I rarely seem to manage a doorstopper. In fact, if I go with a 500+ pages definition, I haven’t read one since December. The main one I intend to read this year is The Covenant of Water by Abraham Verghese.

  9. Jill Fagerlund

    I really enjoy the doorstop books, the only problem being that they are hard to hold when reading in bed. One I have read and enjoyed this year is A Novel of London by Milos Crnjanski translated from the Russian and gives a picture of life for Russian emigres in London just after WW2.

  10. jenniferbeworr

    Lately I have been reading novels that are over 350 pages. In nearly all the cases where the novels have been over 400 pages they have not been edited well. This is now more the norm than the exception. It’s interesting to learn about a crop of longer works where this is not an issue. Cheers!

  11. I’m not big on doorstop books, though I did read War & Peace last year (didn’t really enjoy it) and I’ve just finished Demon Copperhead, which I enjoyed with some reservations. I find it’s grown on me since I finished it! I don’t know any of your own choices … yet.

  12. Oo thanks for these recommendations. I am also much more drawn to novellas and seldom read a long book that wouldn’t have been better as a shorter book – so I’m encouraged to look for these successes. Sarah Waters is an author who does manage to justify her long books – and Barbara Kingsolver too.

    1. A Sarah Waters chunkster would definitely work, particuarly the early ones. Thank you. I do sometimes itch to strike out lines, paragraphs and pages from the baggier variety.

  13. I do love a good doorstopper every now and again, the longest I’ve read recently is The Shards by Bret Easton Ellis, which did need a good trim in the middle, but I forgave him because I waited thriteen years for that book 🙂

  14. Fascinating list. I enjoy a chunkster, I generally like to read the in January because somehow January just doesn’t feel long enough all by itself. I highly recommend A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys. It’s mad but brilliant.

  15. Sometimes it is lovely to get lost in a big novel. I struggle to hold large books now unfortunately, so I’m glad of my kindle. I still have Echoes of the City on my tbr thanks to your recommendation a couple of years ago. It’s going to be mote difficult for me to tackle now, but I still think it sounds brilliant.

    1. I do know what you mean. I hope your kindle helps make that possible for you, Ali, and that you’ll feel up to tackling Echoes of the City. I think you’d like it.

  16. Your post reminds me that I still have an early copy of The Lincoln Highway on my shelves. I really must get around to trying it sometime soon!
    Like others here, I enjoy a good doorstopper now and again…something you can sink into, especially in the winter. You’ve probably read it already, but if not…Winifred Holtby’s South Riding is excellent. I read it when I was recovering from a major injury, and it definitely did the trick!

    1. I have read (and enjoyed) South Riding and seem to remember a TV adaptation a while back. Thanks for reminding me of it, Jacqui. Hope you enjoy the Towles.

  17. Underworld by Don DeLillo
    The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
    Beartown by Fredrik Backman and its two sequels
    A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
    The Dust That Falls From Dreams by Louis de Bernieres and its two sequels
    I found all the above worth reading, some definitely easier than others, but all rewarding.

  18. I’m drawn to 19th century novels and those authors certainly wrote plenty of doorstoppers. Trollope would have been just as good if they had been 100 pages shorter (he does go on and on about politics which I found tiresome).

    Big fat books I’ve enjoyed include The Old Wives Tale by Arnold Bennett; and of course the Hilary Mantel trilogy about Cromwell.

    1. Ha! Those triple-decker 19th-century novels could stop any door once rolled into one volume. My impatient partner couldn’t wait for the last Mantel in paperback so bought the hardback edition which means I’ve been putting off reading it. Impossible in bed.

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