Characters, story and very long tales

My husband watched the final of the most recent series of Mad Men last night. We both of us cycle between love for the show and not being able to bear watching. Depression sets in! He was pleased (and this is a little spoilery) that Don Draper’s character was bringing some of his past out into the light. But then he commented that the story of Draper’s ex-wife, Betty, seemed superfluous. Perhaps, in the sense of not contributing to the unfolding of Don Draper’s story, it is. But I like that it’s there. It’s unexpected. Wonderful. A counterpoint to the advertising world. To me, the series has something of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. The complex lives and unexpected developments. The “who would have thought” past which has been left behind.

I am reading Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries – the recent Man Booker Prize winner and a saga of 800 and something pages. It’s very much a nineteenth century novel in setting as well as in style. I am 190 pages in and, naturally, the scene is only being set, the mystery just beginning to unfold. Some of the characters have become known, others are still in the background. But I also came across Julian Notivz’s discussion of the novel in the Sydney Review of Books. Notivz discusses and, to some extent, defends, Catton’s choices of style and structure, but also, and most interestingly for me, touches on Catton’s influence by modern television narratives such as The Wire.

I like the argument that series such as The Wire and Mad Men is television finding a form equivalent to that of the novel, and possibly a nineteenth century novel at that. The Man Booker judges described The Luminaries as ‘a Kiwi Twin Peaks’. Perhaps the twenty-first century novel cannot help but find a form that has some of the attributes of television.


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