Periodical novels in the digital age, and scones
I'm reading The Unbearable Lightness of Scones by Alexander McCall Smith (a great title), the fifth in the 44 Scotland Street series of novels. It was originally published in The Scotsman, each short chapter a day. I'm enjoying it immensely, more than the previous one, the first one in this series which I've read. I think it's partly because I'm more familiar with the characters, and also because I was slightly distracted by the blurb in the other book which mentioned a minor plot point which I waited for ages to arrive. I think the blurb writer, given the intertwined nature of the stories and the lack of major plot points, seized on something to mention which actually was one of loads of details in the life of a character.
He writes in the introduction:
The story has numerous plots; characters drift in and out; some matters are unresolved; strange things happen. In short, a serial novel is particularly well-suited to the depiction of the shape of real life, which does not unfold in a strictly linear way.It sounds like an ideal situation for an author who doesn't want to work too hard, but whether it is or not, it makes a great experience for the reader: a kind of literary soap opera, which dates back to Dickens day. I wondered how this experience could be translated into the modern day and wondered if there was good way of delivering the chapters in daily emails, paid for of course, so that the author could make a living, without making it too easy for people to republish illegally.
The reason I'm writing this review in the middle of the book is because I discovered that another of his books, A Conspiracy of Friends, the third in the Corduroy Mansions series (like 44 Scotland Street, but in Pimlico, not Edinburgh) is available on the Telegraph website in daily instalments for free. Presumably this is some sort of experiment to see if the traffic it brings to the Telegraph site covers the costs. It was an interview with one of the characters in the Saturday paper alerted me to the online stuff. There's a Facebook group, and a discussion group on the website, but only with 31 members. So they're trying to build a bit of community around the book, but it's not really what you'd call humming. Interesting experiment to watch though.