I recently finished reading two very different novels, 1Q84 by Murakami, and The Ice Trilogy, by Sorokin, and found myself thinking about how the two writers relies on repetition a great deal, even if in two completely different ways.
Murakami is constantly letting the reader know how obsessed his characters are with their predicaments, giving us the same inner thoughts over and over again, sometimes in the same chapter or paragraph. At times it gets grotesque, really, to the point that Murakami has trouble keeping the chronology of events of his book straight, and it's forced to break the fourth wall, and talk to the reader directly to explain what happen when, destroying quite clumsily the suspension of disbelief.
I know that he is one of the most successful and respected author alive, and I can see that (as I explain in more details in my Goodreads review: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/384517453), but I can't help thinking that this book could have been a lot better at a third of its length (600 instead of the 900 pages it runs now), reducing that constant repetition to a less jarring amount.
Sorokin, on the other hand, constantly repeats the same plot point, over and over again and mostly in the same detailed manner, without seemingly being able to offer us more. It kind of make sense, in the overall structure of the novel, but it still gets boring pretty quickly. And when he finally gets to the point, the last part of the trilogy feels quite rushed and uninspired, and almost preposterous.
Just like Murakami, though, even if not at the same level of brilliance, Sorokin has some magical stretches that shows why he is a very accomplished author in his own right, but at the end of the day the overall reading experience feels flatter than it could have been. Also, I can't help thinking that if an unknown author would have tried to sell any of those novels as their first work, he would have either failed, or had to edit them dramatically, under the direction of the editors assigned to them by their publishers.
I know that repetition can be very effective if done properly (the style of the magnificent trilogy of James Ellroy on American History - American Tabloid, The Cold Six Thousand and Blood is a Rover comes to mind), but personally when I write, I consider it the worst of all evil. I go out of my way to avoid using the same term, or, God forbid, the same plot point, but reading these two successful novels makes me rethink a bit my stance.
How do you feel about repetition? Something to avoid at all cost? Or that can be used with moderation? Or only if you can get away with it as a successful author, like in the two cases above?