Reading plans

Gearing up for Novellas In November

If it’s November then it must be time to celebrate what Ian McEwan called “the perfect form of prose fiction.”

Those of you who’ve followed this blog for a while will know that I’m not a lover of short stories. Novellas though, now they’re a different matter entirely.

It’s the brevity of the narrative in a short story that’s the problem. I’m just warming up to the characters and the setting; turn the page and that’s it. The end. This isn’t a case of lack of creativity or skill on the author’s behalf because I know short length writing can be even more challenging than writing a full length novel. But I still feel cheated, left expecting and wanting so much more.

I find novellas far more satisfying. They don’t suffer from the “saggy middle” problem that can beset longer works. They can have just as much complexity of idea, depth of character or levels of suspense as their longer cousin but the structure is often less contrived. The best have enough tension and pace to keep my interest and by the end make me feel satisfied that I’ve experienced a complete, well-rounded story.

If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe Ian McEwan who, in an article for the New York Times, explained his love of a novella:

It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated, ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days). And this child is the means by which many first know our greatest writers.

Ian McEwan, New York Times Oct 29, 2012  New York Times

Since I started reading more novellas last year, I’ve built a small collection. Novellas in November is a wonderful opportunity to delve into some of these purchases. If you’re not familiar with Novellas In November, it’s a month long event co-hosted by Cathy of 746 Books and Rebecca of BookishBeck. Each week has a theme:

2–8 November: Contemporary fiction (Cathy)

9–15 November: Nonfiction novellas (Rebecca)

16–22 November: Literature in translation (Cathy)

23–29 November: Short classics (Rebecca)

I failed to find a candidate for the non fiction category but did well on the other three. I won’t manage to read all of these because November also happens to be Australian Reading Month (AusReading Month) and there is also Nonfiction November which I’m hoping to dip into.

So here are my options.

Contemporary novellas

In The Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton is set in and around Morecombe Bay in the north of England. This exploration of marriage and love was published earlier this year by the tiny indie house of LouiseWaltersBooks. If I read nothing else for Novellas In November I’ll be making sure to read this one. It’s my patriotic duty to support an author who lives in Wales. Plus, Cath and I are in the same book club so I feel a personal connection to her writing.

I’ve been gradually buying books from the Pereine Press back catalogue. I do love their titles because they’re so international in range and introduce me to authors that were completely unknown to me. I’m leaning towards Stone In a Landscape by the Catalan author Maria Barbel. It’s a tale of love thwarted by the Spanish civil war.

Translated Novellas

So many choices here. Do I go for Signs Preceding The End of the World by Yuri Herrera, an allegorical tale of a Mexican woman who illegally crosses the border into the US to search for her brother. Or do I choose The Hour of the Star which has been described as a masterful work by the Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, It focuses on a young woman who lives in the slums of Rio de Janeiro where she ekes out a living as a typist.  But first I’m going for A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli which I ordered from the library after reading a review of another, more recent book of us. I just wish I knew which blogger had reviewed him!

Classic Novellas

Many of the works categorised as “classic” turn out to be novellas. Think Animal Farm, Heart of Darkness, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to name just a few. My shelves have offered me The Fall by Albert Camus. It’s a novella I’d planned to read for Karen and Simon’s recent 1957 reading week but wasn’t in the right frame of mind that week for an enigmatic, philosophical monologue. Will I be up to it this time?

If you’re planning to join Novellas in November, do let me know what you’re planning to read. Even if you don’t read anything you can follow the discussions via Cathy and Rebecca’s blogs and on Twitter with #NovNov.


What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

33 thoughts on “Gearing up for Novellas In November

  • I’m planning to join in for this! The only one of yours I’ve read is the Herrera, but I do love the Pereine Press books.
    I happened to see that Joyce Carol Oates’ new book contains four novellas, so I put that on hold right away. It’s been a long time since I read anything by her. Not sure I’ll get to all four, but we’ll see. Happy Reading!

    • Shall I confess to being one of the few people on the blog book planet who hasn’t read Joyce Carol Oates? I know, embarrassing isn’t it…

      • I think I’ve only read one other, a very long time ago. So, I get it! 🙂

        • Oh good, I don’t feel so bad now…

  • I recently finished To a God Unknown, by John Steinbeck. I thoroughly appreciated it. In November, there are two shorter works I’ve been considering. One is in French, Le Premier Accroc, written shortly after WWII, describing allied forces arriving in Provence, France. It was the first book written by a woman to win France’s highest literary prize, le Prix Goncourt. No doubt available in English. The second book is Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. In the last year or so, I’ve taken time to read more short fiction. I’m happy to learn about Novellas in November.

    • I saw your review of Giovanni’s Room – it’s not one I’m familiar with but it does sound good

      • Haven’t yet read anything by Baldwin, including GR but plan to soon.

  • Delighted you are taking part! Look forward to hearing about these!

    • the thanks go to you and Rebecca for hosting this 🙂

  • I love Pereine Press! They hit on the contemporary and translated themes very well. I’m considering a short Margaret Atwood book, Good Bones, to coincide with Margaret Atwood Reading Month (so many events this month), and I have two Jean Rhys books I’ve been meaning to get to, Quartet and Wide Sargasso Sea.

    • Wide Sargasso Sea is a great choice – very evocative

  • It might have been my review of A Meal in Winter that caught your eye. It’s a superb piece of writing. There are two more by Mingarellis in the same loosely linked series – Four Soldiers and The Invisible Land which I’ll be reviewing shortly. All three are excellent!

    • If it was you (I think it likely!) just want to say thank you because I’ve dipped into this and already can sense I am going to love it.
      Will keep an eye out for your newest reviews – sounds like I should put both of them onto my wishlist.

      • So pleased to hear that, Karen. I’ve already reviewed Four Soldiers and The Invisible Land will be coming up shortly but I don’t think you’ll need to read my posts to be persuaded by the sound of it!

  • I agree about short stories. I am often frustrated when they abruptly end. I signed up for a one yr subscription to Peirene press. They look interesting and I was not familiar with them. Good luck with the novellas and I look forward to what you read. 🤠🐧🍷

    • I was tempted to do the Peirene subscription too but in the end went for the one from Asympote

  • I don’t do challenges either, but this isn’t a challenge, it’s a reading prompt, and one that I like because I enjoy novellas.
    I have no idea yet what I’ll read because I have a lot on my shelves to choose from, but Huh? Non fiction Novellas?? Novellas are short novels. Call me old-fashioned if you like, but as far as I am concerned they are works of fiction.

    • I’m reassured that I was not alone in being confused by the non fiction novella classification.

      • LOL it’s a post-truth world. You can make words mean anything now if you want to!
        No, seriously, I get the argument that all works of NF are fiction to some or a greater extent, and I also get the idea of creative non-fiction where writers ‘fill the gaps’ in the documentary record with intelligent speculation about what probably happened and could have happened. (E.g. a woman marries, subsequently has a baby in a remote village, there’s no hospital or doctor within cooee, so she probably had help from a midwife.)
        And I also get the argument that many novels, especially historical ones, have research based on facts, and therefore have elements on NF in them.
        But sheesh, a novella is, first and foremost, a work of fiction. And writers of novellas have a hard enough time getting a place in the sun without having their territory invaded by NF.
        Still, live and let live, I look forward to seeing what Rebecca comes up with! After all, there is a whole month to enjoy, and good on them both for hosting this.

        • sometimes we get too stuck on genres and classifications but in this case I think the distinction between a novella and non fiction should be maintained. I suppose you could call the non fiction variety “short form ” and leave it at that.

        • Well, we wait to see what they come up with…

  • Stone in a Landscape is one of my favourites from the Peirene Collection. I will enjoy following your reading, I just read a wonderful novella translated from Italian, A Girl Returned by Donatello Di Pietrantonio, I highly recommend.

    • Thanks for that recommendation Claire (and the reinforcement of why I should read “Stone”)

  • Much as I love a good novella I’m trying not to over-commit to any events or challenges, or at least not to flag it up until I do it. I’m doing a couple of SF titles this month but I may find time to read a novella or two (though not according to the schedule). I may even try near neighbour Cath Barton’s new title as I enjoyed her first published novella The Plankton Collector.

  • So many challenges for November! But I will try to take part in this one. I approve the Camus, of course! Happy reading.

    • Far too many for me to manage and I haven’t even mentioned that Nov is also German lit month and Margaret Atwood reading month!

  • A very recent novella which I thought was excellent is ‘Indelicacy’ by Amina Cain.

    • Ok, I shall have to look that one up since I don’t recognise it….

  • Backman’s novellas are among my favs! Deal of a Lifetime and Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer (would fit the translation category). I’m not sure they are even marketed as novellas. I noticed critical reviews of the price of Deal of a Lifetime costing as much as a full book (I read it in an hour so maybe that would be a short story? Backman packs in so much content though!).

    • If its that short then yes I would class it as a short story. There’s a rule of thumb I think about how many words constitutes a novella vs short story but I can’t remember the details right now


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