So, even if they now seem natural, the lengths and formats of books are but cultural accidents. If this all goes, there will be consequences for the shape, size and format of prose narrative. How far is up for debate. Fiction by mobile phone is still essentially at the gimmick stage in Europe. But in Japan, keitai shosetsu, or “cellphone novels”, are composed on mobile phones and posted to media-sharing sites before being published in hardback. As long ago as 2007, keitai shosetsu accounted for four out of the top five literary bestsellers in Japan.
That’s a bit ahead of us. But blogs-to-books is already a well-established pathway in the UK. Online serialisation, interactive narratives (AKA reinventing the Choose Your Own Adventure), even books written to order for subscribers (see unbound.co.uk) are starting to emerge. Experimentalists such as Kate Pullinger – who alongside her straight literary novels has masterminded various experiments in narrative, including the collaborative online novel Flight Paths – are likely to remain marginal, but those margins are getting bigger. The boundaries of the book – as the success of apps for The Waste Land and On the Road, giving access to edits, revisions and encyclopedic paraphernalia – are becoming much more plastic, much less fixed.