Name a “First Class” Novel

Recently Donald Maass published an article,The New Class System, about his take on the world of publishing in Writer Unboxed. In it he listed classes of novels. I am creating a checklist of his First Class Novel points. My first impression was that few novels would fit in this category, and of course, it probably isn’t necessary for all good novels to meet every point.

Here’s the list, taken from his post:

1. Memorable Characters
a. singular destiny
b. likeable
c. self-aware
2. Unique Premise
3. Instantly “real” story world
4. Gripping plots
a. gripping even when slow
5. Gorgeous writing
6. Surprising themes
a.which are challenging
b. change us or see the world in a different way
7. Break rules
8. Transport us to a different culture or time
9. Teach things we knew little or nothing about.
10. Overall “utterly unique”

For my first attempt at “rating” a book I thought I’d have to use something I’d read in the last year, but when I looked at my bookshelf, I realized I have other candidates. For my first attempt at analyzing a book, I am going to use Lambs of God by Marele Day.

1. Memorable characters. Yes, although I can’t, off the top of my head, name any of the nuns or the priest.They are likeable, although they have varying degrees of self-awareness. And yes, at least two of the main characters, including the antagonist, Father Ignatius, have singular destinies.

2. The premise: a group of nuns live isolated in a forgotten monastery have their new traditions and routines interrupted when a man (Father Ignatius) appears with orders to close their sanctuary. I’ve never read a book with this outlandish premise before, and it is hard to see how anyone else could propose it.

3. Story world immediately real. Yes.

4. Plots that grip. I read it quite awhile ago and plot is not usually a major factor for me, nor are nuns the characters I’d put at the top of my interesting traits/occupations list. Glancing at the book now, I’d say it takes a little (p. 5) to actually get into. I suspect it is mostly slow but still entertaining and interesting.

5. Gorgeous prose. This is another characteristic that I’d have to reread to accurately access. I found this novel hilarious and think comic novels can get away with a different level of good prose.

6. Themes: To definitely decide, reread, but probably yes, although obviously not memorable enough I can spout them now.

7. Breaks rules. Again, this is hard to access since I’m not sure what rules are being spoken to, but yes, a book with one male character set in an isolated spot probably breaks many rules.

8. Cultures and times. My recollection from an interview is that the author made up most of the Catholicism for this novel, but it fits due to the cutoff nature of the group. So in the world of fantasy, yes an unlikely culture.

9. Teaches things. I did have to look up the geography since the author is Australian and I was curious as to the setting. I was also curious as well as the accuracy of the theology. Although I may not have learned much about either in the book itself, the book could be considered a vehicle for learning.

10. Utterly unique. My initial thought was, “Yes, this is unique,” but on reflection, I think it could fit into a genre of science fiction/fantasy–isolated outpost. It might have some similarity to Lord of the Flies, (William Golding) and possibly The Sparrow  (Mary Doria Russell.)

I guess I’m calling it as having at least six attributes of the First Class Novel, with three unknown due to the necessity of rereading. The last is a draw since I would have said yes, utterly unique, but on second thought, it does share characteristics with some other stories.

Overall score: 6+

I would love to hear YOUR ideas of First Class Novels and how they rate using this system.

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  1. #1 by cryptictown on February 7, 2014 - 10:38 pm

    All right, so…The Bone Key by Sarah Monette:

    1. Memorable characters. Kyle Murchison Booth is an archivist in a very intriguing museum where Lovecraftian happenings abound. He is insecure personally, yet confident professionally, and his profession quickly becomes paranormal in nature. Some of us know he’s gay right away. He is the introvert in us all, but he likes himself, even if he wouldn’t be caught dead admitting it.

    2. The premise: The world we know is far more weird and mysterious than we’d dreamed. Here is the man who has experienced it and is willing to tell us about it.

    3. Story world immediately real. It’s the real world with embellishments so craftily placed, we accept them utterly.

    4. Plots that grip. Yes, See above.

    5. Gorgeous prose. Monette is an amazing writer, capturing a gothic voice in a contemporary character who knows he’s different but doesn’t realize how beautiful he and his take on the world are.

    6. Themes: There, of course, is more to this world than you know. (This is the only theme that interests me these days.)

    7. Breaks rules. She writes her novel in the form of short stories, individually published between 2000 and 2006, and it all holds together better than many novels I’ve read.

    8. Cultures and times. Set in the culture of contemporary London shown through the eyes of an antiquarian.

    9. Teaches things. Much about esoterica than may or may not be “real”, but who’s to say?

    10. Utterly unique. Well, f%#k yes.

  2. #2 by c2london on February 8, 2014 - 8:20 am

    Thanks for the complete analysis. I know in a comment that doesn’t seem to have made it to the actual blog–maybe it’s on the wrong one?–you said it was subjective. I think that is material for another post or two!

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