Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

Donna Tartt’s novel “The Goldfinch” has 771 pages. “The Luminaries” by Eleanor Catton, winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, is 834 pages long. And then there is “City on Fire,” the 900-page debut novel that took the publishing industry by storm last week.

It was even more evidence that the long novel is experiencing a resurgence, as a dozen publishers competed for the rights to release the book, set in New York City in the 1970s. “City on Fire” was written by Garth Risk Hallberg, 34, who has contributed to The New York Times Book Review and The Millions. Publishers who had a copy of the manuscript — and said they could concentrate on little else until they had finished reading it — rapturously compared it to work by Michael Chabon and Thomas Pynchon.

The book drew an advance that is highly unusual for a debut novel. In a two-day bidding war, 10 publishers bid more than $1 million. Knopf emerged the victor, paying close to $2 million, said two people familiar with the negotiations.

Before the acquisition, Diana Miller, an editor at Knopf, wrote Chris Parris-Lamb, Hallberg’s agent, an email praising the book, saying it was “off the charts in its ambition, its powers of observation, its ability to be at once intellectual and emotionally generous.”

Sonny Mehta, the chairman and editor in chief of Knopf, said Sunday, “It’s a large, spacious and extremely ambitious novel. It has a richness to it, and that was really what I responded to almost immediately.”

No publication date has been set.

Parris-Lamb first read the book a year ago and said that Hallberg, who took six years to write it, was initially concerned about the length. Hallberg declined to be interviewed.

“There are a lot of very long novels with not a lot of structure to them,” Parris-Lamb said. “The intentionality and purposefulness with which the novel reached these lengths is really remarkable.”

The events of the book, Parris-Lamb wrote in a letter to publishers, “revolve around a central mystery: what exactly is going on behind the locked steel doors of a derelict townhouse in the East Village, and what might it have to do with the shooting in Central Park in the novel’s opening act?”

Hallberg has written an illustrated novella, “A Field Guide to the North American Family,” published in 2007.

Scott Rudin, the producer, bought the film rights to the new book last month, before the auction for the publishing rights.

“The scale of it, the vision of it, the big political ideas, how tightly knitted all the stories are to each other and how densely and pleasurably plotted it is, made me feel like, for the purposes of a movie, he had done the lion’s share of the work that anyone would have to do,” Rudin said. “It doesn’t need to be massively reinvented to be a movie.”