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.
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.
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!
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.