Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Tis the Season for ... Novellas

Sometimes I read long lofty novels because they’ve been selected by my book club, The Lady Bugs. Left to my own devices I frequently read mysteries. But at holiday time I read novellas – romantic ones.

Shortly after Thanksgiving I get a stack of them from the library. They come in paperback and generally feature the work of two pretty famous romance writers. I love them because you can read one of the duets per night before drifting off. What you get is a good story with a Christmas theme without a lot of secondary characters and subplots. I need that at holiday time because life gets complicated enough on its own.

Often these are stories about women seeking refuge from the holiday. They go off to a log cabin in the woods only to find the unfriendly hermit next door with the linebacker shoulders (from chopping all that wood) can thaw pretty nicely by New Years.

Recently I read a long novel by a famous author. I didn’t care for the main characters but loved the secondary ones with their witty repartee and budding romance. So what I did was skip the main story and read the subplot – turning the book into a novella – which it should have been in the first place.

A novella is longer than a short story but shorter than a novel generally somewhere between 17,000 and 40,000 words. The markets for them aren’t plentiful (too short for book publishers and too long for magazines) so writers will frequently pad their stories to get them up to novel length. And that’s a shame because there is something special about a novella besides that is nice and light to hold in bed. In the introduction to a novella anthology titled Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg writes: [The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary forms...it allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.

And looking in Wikipedia I found that there have been some pretty lofty novellas.
John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men and The Pearl, Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis and In the Penal Colony, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, Thomas Mann's Death in Venice, Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus and Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.

So maybe next year I will get my book club to read a short lofty book.

3 comments:

Debbie Wallace said...

I loved Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Old Man in the Sea! Hate to say I didn't read the books, but I loved the movies:)

margaret blake said...

Totally agree. The shorter novels are a boon, also, to literature students, they have so many books to read that a shorter novel can really motivate them. I often used Of Mice and Men and Animal Farm, both proved to be very popular. They are excellent novels, of course, but they really helped those fifteen year old boys, many of whom, did not like to read too much.

Sarita Leone said...

I love novellas. Fast, entertaining, and you're right about there being lots of quality stories to choose from.

There's quite a flurry of interest right now over the Brava Novella Contest. Interesting to watch. :)