When Bibliofreak launched her latest challenge, I’m sure she was unaware of Lizzy’s love of alliteration. Short story September is now a permanent fixture in my reading calendar. Novella November is likely to become as irresistible.
I find novellas intensely satisfying. Long enough to lose yourself in but short enough not to get repetitive. I’m still trying to discover at what point a short story transmutes into a novella and whether that is the same as a long short story. But for the purposes of this challenge I’m going to define novella as a story that is between 60 and 140 pages long.
I read novellas all the time and I’ve read a few this year that I have yet to blog about. It’s time to play catchup.
Starting in Scotland with the King of Crime, Ian Rankin. A Cool Head is what it proclaims on the cover – a quick read. I picked it up for reading on the bus and it served its purpose. A fast paced thriller but the prose is much simpler than that used in the Rebus novels. Possibly deliberately so. Looking at the Quick Reads website, it appears that the raison d’etre of this series is to encourage those with reading difficulties to improve their literacy skills. New titles are published annually on World Books Day offering a menu of short sharp entertainment and in the first four years of the project, 1.25 million copies have been sold. That’s no mean feat. Come to think of it, I read Minette Walter’s Chickenfeed a few years ago. Based on a true murder case, I remember it as a rivetting read. One I would happily revisit.
Alice Thompson, who also chooses to write in spare prose, has created an altogether more complex read in her creepy Pharos. Well, it is subtitled A Ghost Story. A shipwrecked woman is found on the beach and for some reason, the lighthousekeeper and his assistant choose not to return her to the mainland. She has no idea why as she is suffering from amnesia. Eventually the trio are joined by the lighthousekeeper’s sister … and a fifth being, a wild girl child who appears in strange places at strange times. Why though does no-one wish the shipwrecked one to recover her memory and how much of what she tells can we believe? What is certain, however, is that nothing good can come of her being on the island, setting herself against the established pattern of things. It’s testament to Thompson’s skill with language that she has all the time in the world to rachet up the tension, notch by notch, until …. well, that would be telling! (Note: at 179 pages this is probably better classified as a short novel rather than a novella. But who’s counting?)
And finally not one but three novellas in one Premio Cocito Monta d’Alba prizewinning volume. Pietro Grossi’s Fists concerns itself with the transition to adulthood – the painful moment in a young man’s life when a future-determining choice must be made. The first story is set in the world of amateur boxing and it is the most autobiographical of the three. The second set in the countryside concerns two brothers who are given horses by their father. The lessons they learn from caring for the animals and the decisions they ultimately make show the differences that personality can make on outcomes. The third story is surreal with Kafkaesque undertones. What would you do if your best friend decided to become a monkey? Really – to act and behave like a monkey and completely renege on the responsibilities of being a human. It may sound funny but this story has profound meanings locked within the superficial comedy of the premise. Even though the masculine focus is necessarily predominant in these tales, they remain very readable. Smoothly translated by Howard Curtis, I was absorbed, reading them one after the other without pausing. Kudos to Pushkin Press for bringing another gem of European literature to our shores and a few more kudos for packaging them in such a lovely dustjacket.
A Cool Head / Pharos 1/2 / Fists 1/2