In his most recent novel, "The Rotters' Club"1, Jonathan Coe treats the reader to a sentence containing 13,995 words. The sentence, which makes up the last section of the novel, appears as a monologue by Benjamin Trotter, one of the story's protagonists, related in a stream-of-consciousness style, and according to the author, in homage to Molly Bloom's monologue in James Joyce's Ulysses, which contains eight sentences, the longest at 4391 words2.
Although Coe's effort is generally regarded as the longest sentence in English-language fiction, it begins to read like John 11:353, alongside the 40,000 or so words Polish novelist and political dissident Jerzy Andrzejewski (1909-1983) managed to put together, unbroken by fullstops, in his 1960 novel "Bramy raju" (The Gates of Paradise), written as a retelling of the Children's Crusade of 1212, and containing in its entirety, remarkably, only two sentences, in a wonderfully excessive example of the elegant variation every English teacher looks for with the advice that you should always mix sentence lengths because reading sentence after sentence of equal length rapidly inspires ennui. (The other sentence is very short.)
If two sentences is one sentence too many for your taste, then the book you are looking for is "Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age: A Novel"4, by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal, and translated into English by the man of a thousand languages (seemingly) Michael Heim, in which the tale of an old man recounting stories of his youth, his life, his ideas, political history, to six young sun-soaking women, is contained within a single sentence of around 20,000 words.
1. (UK publication details) The Rotters' Club
, Viking, 2001 (Hardback), Penguin Books, 2002, (Paperback)
2. As counted by Dr Lucia Boldrini, Lecturer in English Literature at Goldsmiths College
"Jesus wept"King James Bible, John 11:35
. The shortest verse found in that version, although Delfick
points out that in other translations other verses are shorter.
4. (UK publication details) Dancing Lessons for the Advanced in Age: A Novel
, The Harvill Press, 1998