New Arrival in the Literary Heavyweight Division

By Neal Comment

After publishing a novel (Red Earth and Pouring Rain) and a short story collection (Love & Longing in Bombay) with Little, Brown in the ’90s, Vikram Chandra has sold a 1,200+-page novel about “organized crime in modern Bombay” to HarperCollins for, according to Hillel Italie’s anonymous source, $1 million. The novel, which took Chandra seven years to complete (including a hiatus in which he co-wrote a Bollywood screenplay), does not as yet have a title.

The novel’s immensity “may appear a commercial risk,” Italie writes, “but… length can be an advantage, giving the project the aura of an ‘event,’ a mountain to climb.” Contrast this suggestion with Bantam’s handling of the latest volume of George RR Martin‘s fantasy epic A Song of Ice and Fire, which is shipping next month. The first three books in the series weighed in at 1,088, 1,184, and 1,521 manuscript pages respectively, and the final, published version of #3, A Storm of Swords, was nearly 1,000 pages in hardcover and a little over 1,200 in paperback–a “production nightmare” for Bantam. So, earlier this year, when A Feast For Crows was already approaching 1,530 manuscript pages and Martin still had at least 150 more to go before he felt it was done, he and Bantam negotiated a compromise. “Telling all the story for half the characters, rather than half the story for all the characters,” Martin has pulled out all the already-completed chapters dealing with one group of characters in the series’ densely populated cast, saving the other story threads for another novel to be called A Dance With Dragons.

The solution appears to have been chosen for purely logistical reasons; since A Storm of Swords made the Times bestseller list, the concern probably wasn’t whether Martin’s fans would buy another huge doorstopper of a novel, but coming up with a version of that book that wouldn’t run printing presses into the ground.