Willa Cather: “It’s Not A Novel!”
Death Comes For The Archbishop is not a novel.
But, wait a minute, isn’t this a list of the 101 greatest novels that I’m reading through? Well, I thought so.
But Willa Cather preferred to call her most famous book a “narrative.” Here’s how A.S. Byatt explains it in the introduction of the novel.
As she herself points out, “novel” is a misleading term in some ways. Reviewers, she says, found the book hard to classify–to which she characteristically responds, “Why bother?” and goes on “Many more reviewers assert vehemently that it is not a novel. Myself, I prefer to call it a “narrative.”
That makes sense. There’s little plot in the sense that the book really doesn’t have a point A to point B style. It’s almost constructed like small snapshots, brief stories, about events these two priests have as they roam through the New Mexico territory.
The book has a lot of dialogue, a lot of landscape descriptions, as you would expect from a Western. The pacing is slow, matching the story, which involves a lot of slow, laborious traveling over dry and harsh terrain.
Cather is clearly a superb writer, but don’t you dare call her book a novel, okay?
Have you ever read a book that you would say doesn’t fit the traditional mold of a novel?