Move over, James Joyce and all the other pretenders.
The new owner of the record for the longest sentence in published literature is Mathias Enard for his 517-page French novel “Zone.” In fact, the entire novel, except for a few pages of flashbacks, is made up of a single 150,000-word sentence.
Open Letter Books at the University of Rochester has purchased the rights to the book and expects to publish a translation by Charlotte Mandell in spring 2010, according to Chad Post, the press director.
But is the record-setter gibberish? Not at all, says Post.
“It’s told from inside this guy’s mind as he takes a train trip,” he says. “It has a lot of commas.”
“Zone,” which has parallels to Homer’s “Iliad,” was one of several books promoted by the French government at the recent Frankfurt Book Fair for translation around the world. That promotion included a four-page English translation, part of which read:
“Everything is more difficult when you’re an adult, everything rings falser a little metallic like the sound of two bronze weapons clashing they make us come back to ourselves without letting us get out of anything it’s a fine prison, you travel ...”
For a long time, Joyce’s “Ulysses” was thought to have the longest sentence. Various sources report sentences of 4,391; 11,281; and 12,931 words apiece. But none is long enough to crack the top four nowadays:
1. 150,000 words in “Zone,” by Mathias Enard (published in French in 2008)
2. 40,000 words in “Gates of Paradise,” by Jerzy Andrzejewski (Polish, 1960)
3. 30,000 words in “Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age,” by Bohumil Hrabal (Czech, 1964)
4. 13,995 words in “The Rotters’ Club,” by Jonathan Coe (English, 2001)
NOTE: The above list does not include “The Blah Story,” by Nigel Tomm, which has a sentence of reportedly 2.4 million words that rambles through Volumes 16, 17, 18 and 19. It was left off because (a) the book is self-published, (b) about a million of those words are “blah” and (c) its literary value is highly questionable. An excerpt: “As no one was blah any blah to blah, and no one blah needed blah, blah quietly blah blah ...”