Why 20 years is not long to wait for Arundhati Roy’s next novel

Roy’s The Ministry of Utmost Happiness may follow a 20-year silence, but authors from Tolstoy to Harper Lee have taken longer rests between books

There was much rejoicing this week when Arundhati Roy, the author of the 1997 Booker prize-winning The God of Small Things, announced that her second novel, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, will be published in 2017. Twenty years is a long time to wait for a novel, but Roy is by no means the tardiest author in literary history.

Recently, Jonathan Franzen, Kazuo Ishiguro, Donna Tartt and Milan Kundera have taken nine, 10, 11 and 14 years, respectively, between novels. Barbara Pym published Quartet in Autumn (1977) 16 years after No Fond Return of Love. James Joyce was so exhausted after Ulysses (1922) (his readers may empathise) that he didn’t begin Finnegans Wake for a year, and didn’t publish it until 1939. Thomas Pynchon left 17 years between his third and fourth novels.

Many series have had big gaps. Judith Kerr’s Mog’s Christmas Calamity (2015) was published 13 years after (spoiler alert) Mog the cat died in Goodbye Mog. There were 18 years between books three and four in Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea series, and 24 between Richard Adams’s Watership Down (1972) and Tales from Watership Down. The boy hero of Alan Garner’s 1960 book The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was a professor by the time Boneland, the third in the trilogy, was published in 2012.

Also beating Roy’s 20 years are Tolstoy (22 years between Anna Karenina and Resurrection); Marilynne Robinson (24 years between Housekeeping and Gilead); and of course Harper Lee, whose “first novel”, Go Set a Watchman, was recently published, 55 years after To Kill a Mockingbird.

Fans of George RR Martin can chill their boots, then. They’ve only waited five years (and counting) for his next.


Katy Guest

The GuardianTramp

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