When I read about the Novellas in November challenge, I knew immediately that this was one challenge that I couldn’t miss out on. As you’ll soon see, I seem to have rather a lot of short novels on my shelves, most of them unread.
I even have a few half-read novellas, if you can believe it. It seems I am capable of giving up before the end of a 150-page novel, which doesn’t show much staying power, now, does it? In my defence, that’s usually because I picked up a novella to put in my bag on a short journey or trip to somewhere I expected to wait for a while, but didn’t have to travel or wait long enough to finish. Once I get home, there’s usually another half-read book on the go that has priority for a book club meeting or because it’s on the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die list, so that makes it more ‘worthy’. So that poor novella gets put to one side and overlooked between all the beefier tomes.
How long is a novella anyway?
The two bloggers running the challenge, Rebecca at Bookish Beck and Cathy at 746books, say that a novella is defined by a word count (17,500 – 39,999 or 7,500 to 16,999 for a novelette according to Wikipedia, but who’s going to count?). They suggest a length of around 150 pages, with an absolute upper limit of 200 pages. That rules out a number of the books I added to my list, but sometimes it just depends on the edition.
Size doesn’t matter, but age does!
Sometimes it’s all down to the white space and the font. Good quality and older editions often have an inordinate amount of that. For instance, I have an old edition of Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair that is 237 pages long, but more modern Penguin and Vintage editions are listed on Goodreads with only 192 or even 160 pages. Some of the more ‘utility’ versions published after WWII have tiny writing, crammed on to thin paper with narrow margins. Likewise, some of my classics are printed on extremely thin paper, just like the Bibles and prayer books of my youth. So, in general, the older the book, the thinner the book. So page count isn’t always helpful, but if I can find a different edition on Goodreads below 200 pages, that’s good enough for me.
How many novellas by women writers can you fit on a shelf?
I’m sure I recently read a quote by a feminist writer – Fay Weldon? Virginia Woolf? Margaret Atwood? – that said that women tend to feel they aren’t entitled to take up space and that women are appreciated for being small, so they tend to write short, thin novels, as opposed to men who tend to be boastful of their accomplishments and write thick, macho doorstoppers. It was certainly my immediate thought that I have a number of remarkably thin books written by women, many of them called Penelope for some obscure reason: Penelope Fitzgerald, Penelope Lively, Penelope Mortimer. Penelope Lively’s City of the Mind is just too long, at 220 pages, as is The Photograph at a whopping 236 pages. I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to find the source of that idea, but while I was searching, I came across a fascinating article by Mary Beard in which she refers to Penelope as being the first woman in the Western literary canon to be silenced by a man, her son Telemachus. Ironically, all three of those authorial Penelopes are best known or only wrote under their married names. Incidentally, Sally Rooney also wrote a great article about the pitfalls of ‘writing whilst female’.
Do women write more novellas?
I’m not sure if it was this little collection of female writers that I bought at the same time and were initially shelved together that made me think that women might be more inclined to write novellas or shorter novels. If I kept a list of my books on a spreadsheet, I could run some stats, but I don’t, so I will resist the temptation to find out. On my bookshelves, I have the impression that this is the case, put it that way. After all, some male authors are renowned for their succinct style, notably Ernest Hemingway, but also Graham Greene and (I suspect) crime writers like Ian Fleming and Erle Stanley Gardner. Likewise, women crime writers like Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Historical novelists also tip the balance in the opposite direction, notably Philippa Gregory and Jean M. Auel and, latterly, Hilary Mantel, all of whom can give the Game of Thrones series a run for its money, not to mention Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind and A.S. Byatt’s Possession and The Children’s Book.
Conversely, male authors have a tendency to be over-bloated. I haven’t done a scientific study, but authors like Jonathan Franzen, Stephen King, James Joyce and David Mitchell tend not to be brief. And we won’t even mention the ‘serial offenders’ like George R.R. Martin, J.R.R. Tolkien and Neal Stephenson. I suspect they may be matched by the women who are also prolific series writers such as Patricia Cornwell and, Elizabeth George (whose books are invariably chunky).
On my TBR shelves (if I counted correctly):
- 47 novellas by men (46 individual authors)
- 18 novellas by women (17 individual authors)
I’m not going to draw any conclusions from that; it just happens to be what I have at the moment. It is undoubtedly skewed towards male authors by the predominantly male 1001 List and the fact that many of my novellas are Dutch Book Week freebies and the vast majority of those are by men, make of that what you will.
Novellas in Dutch
As I live in the Netherlands and am a Dutch-English translator, I also read in Dutch, though I prefer to read books originally published in English in English, if I can, because the literary merit of a book is often in the language itself. I have to say, I don’t get on well with Dutch literature, but that’s a topic for another day.
As I said above, I have so many novellas in Dutch because they are given away as free gifts by the Dutch national book marketing association, CPNB (literally Collective Propaganda for Dutch Books; they prefer the word ‘promotion’ in their Wikipedia entry in English). These tend to be written by top authors and, if I look at the ones I own, they are predominantly men. This is partly because I have already read and passed on those written by women that I have come across.
Dutch novellas available in translation – by women
- De glazen brug by Marga Minco [translated as The glass bridge by S. Knecht]
- Transit by Hella S. Haasse [translated as En Transit (Fr.) by Anne-Marie de Both-Diez, Di Passagio (It.) by Laura Pignatti]
- Oeroeg by Hella S. Haasse [translated as The Black Lake by Ina Rilke (Eng.), Le Lac noir (Fr.) by Marie-Noëlle Fontenat, Der schwarze See (Ger.) by Gregor Seferens, L’amico perduto (It.) by Fulvio Ferrari]
- De ijsdragers by Anna Enquist [translated as The Ice Carriers (Eng.) by Jeanette K. Ringold, Die Eisträger (Ger.) by Hanni Ehlers, Les Porteurs de Glace (Fr.) by Michelin’s Goche].
Dutch novellas available in translation – by men
Oddly, I have only read and passed on one book week novella written by a Dutch man, De pianoman [The Piano Man] by J. Bernlef, which hasn’t been translated. I seem to be somewhat biased! However, I know I have undoubtedly read more, for instance:
- Het gouden ei by Tim Krabbé [literally The golden egg, translated (twice) The Vanishing (Eng.) by Claire Nicholas White and Sam Garrett, Das goldene Ei and Spurlos (Ger.), Scomparsa (It.), La desaparición (Sp.) by Marta Arguilé Bernal, A Desaparecida (Port.)].
I was thinking that Tim Krabbé’s agent obviously did a good job selling the translation rights, but then found out it was made into a film starring Jeff Bridges and Kiefer Sutherland. This undoubtedly explains the plethora of translations, with none of the translators listed on Goodreads. Tim Krabbé’s book week gift Een tafel vol vlinders is also waiting to be read.
The ones that didn’t fit the bill
I thought this would be a good excuse to read Jhumpa Lahiri’s Interpreter of Maladies, under 200 pages, but discovered it’s not one novella but several short stories, as is Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Means of Escape (174pp). Not to mention all the novels that looked thin, but had more pages than expected due to thin paper.
Which ones will I read during Novellas in November?
Obviously with such an embarrassment of riches, I will have to prioritise some over others. As my husband said to me, if you read all the short novels now, you won’t get through all those long ones you want to read once you’re losing your marbles. He has a point. That being the case, perhaps I should pick the ones which are on the 1001 List first. There are a surprising number, given they are so short. I suspect this is because novels cost a lot to translate, so when push comes to shove, it’s cheaper to translate a novella and that means that translated works on ‘worthy’ book lists tend to be shorter, not necessarily an author’s best works. Call me cynical, but it’s a definite trend I’ve noticed.
There are a grand total of 17 novels in my possession on the 1001 List. If I could read all of those in November, I would exceed my (admittedly unambitious) goal of reading 12 from the list this year. On the other hand, it could severely limit my chances of reading 12 in subsequent years if I have to read more weighty tomes. Still, I might feel very accomplished. I just started Rituelen [Rituals] by the Dutch author Cees Nooteboom, so I’m already on my way. There are other challenges to be met, however.
I am already signed up to various other challenges on BookCrossing and Goodreads. For instance, every year I attempt a ‘read around the world’ type challenge on BookCrossing, the 666 challenge, which involves reading 6 books from 6 different countries from each of the 6 continents. As usual, I am way behind and struggling with South America and the Pacific regions in particular. So I will try to pick as many international books as I can and not double up on countries. I am also attempting to read some of my books with a number higher than 3 in the title (for the BookCrossing Ultimate Challenge), so as it’s one of my oldest books on the shelf, I’m going to try to fit Maeve Binchy’s Dublin 4 in. And next month’s theme is ‘names in the title’, so I may save My Ántonia, Saving Agnes, Noor’s Story, etc. for then.
Last month, I also took part in the 1956 Club challenge, and lo and behold, I found another novella published in 1956, so that one is a definite read for this month (even though the deadline for the challenge is long gone). In November, there is also an AusReading Month challenge, Margaret Atwood Reading Month (#MARM) hosted by Buried in Print and Consumed by Ink and Nonfiction November.
Novellas on my shelf
- Key to symbols (for my own benefit as much as anyone else’s):
- 1001 – 1001 List
- # – Number over 3 in the title
- ABC – A name in the title
- + – From a country I haven’t covered yet in my country challenge
- % – Half-read
- NF Non-fiction
- OZ Australian author
TBR Novellas in English
Chinua Achebe – Things Fall Apart (1958) – Nigeria, 187pp. 1001 +
Martin Amis – Time’s Arrow (1991) – UK, 176pp. 1001 ABC
Isaac Asimov – I, Robot -> Ik, robot (1950) – USA, 154pp. 1001
Saul Bellow – A Theft (1989) – USA, 109pp.
Maeve Binchy – Dublin 4 (1982) – Ireland, 208pp. #
Mahi Binebine – Cannibales -> De kannibalen / Welcome to Paradise (1999) – Morocco, 172pp. +%
Pearl S. Buck – East Wind: West Wind (1931) – China, 156pp. +%
Willa Cather – My Ántonia (1918) – USA, 175pp. 1001 ABC
Rachel Cusk – Saving Agnes (1993) – USA, 218pp. ABC
Margaret Drabble – The Millstone (1965) – UK, 155pp.
Gerald Durrell – The Drunken Forest (1956) – Argentina, Paraguay, 199pp. +%NF
Noor Ebrahim – Noor’s Story (1999) – South Africa, non-fiction, 87pp. +NF
Graham Greene – The End of the Affair (1951) – UK, 237pp. in this edition! 1001
Graham Greene – The Third Man (1950) – The Fallen Idol (1935) – UK, 120pp/37pp. 1001
Kazuo Ishiguro – A Pale View of Hills (1982) – UK/Japan, 183pp. 1001
Jamaica Kincaid – Annie John (1985) – Antigua, 170pp. 1001 ABC +
Hanif Kureishi – Gabriel’s Gift (2001) – UK, 178pp. ABC
Jean Liedloff – The Continuum Concept (1975) – Venezuela, 150pp. NF +
John Marsden – Winter (2000) – Australia, 135pp. OZ
Colleen McCullough – The Ladies of Missalonghi (1987) – Australia, 132pp. OZ
Ian McEwan – On Chesil Beach (2007) – UK, 166pp.
Iris Murdoch – Acastos (1986) – UK, 131pp.
George Orwell – Animal Farm (1945) – UK, 110pp. 1001
Doris Pilkington – Rabbit-proof Fence (2003) – Australia, 157pp. OZ
John Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men/Cannery Row (1937/1945) – USA, 97pp./50pp. 1001
Susanna Tamaro – Va’dove ti porta il cuore [De stem van je hart (NL)] (1994) – Italy, 173pp.
Sue Townsend – Rebuilding Coventry (1988) – UK, 205pp.
Evelyn Waugh – The Loved One (1948) – UK, 89pp.
H.G. Wells – The Time Machine (1895) – UK, 91pp. 1001 ABC
Virginia Woolf – Mrs Dalloway (1925) – UK, 165pp. 1001
Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse (1927) – UK, 154pp. 1001
Novellas in Translation
Alessandro Baricco – Seta (1996) [translated from Italian as Silk (Eng.) by Guido Waldman, Soie (Fr.) by Françoise Brun, Seide (Ger.) by Karin Krieger, Zijde (NL) by Manon Smits), Seda (Sp.) by Carlos Gumpert & Xavier González Rovira] – Italy, 120pp. 1001
Gerbrand Bakker – Perenbomen bloeien wit: het verhaal van drie broers (NL) (1999) [Translated as Birnbäume blühen weiss (Ger.) by Andrea Kluitmann; Los perales tienen la flor bianca (Sp.) / Les pereres fan la flor blanca (Catalan/Valencian) by Maria Rosich; ; no English translation] – NL, 143pp.
Heinrich Böll – Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (Ger.) (1974) [Translated as The Lost Honour of Katharine Blum (Eng.) by Leila Vennewitz] – Germany, 116pp. 1001 ABC
Alejo Carpentier – El Acoso (Sp.) (1956) [Translated as The Chase (Eng.) by Alfred Mac Adam] – Cuba, 122pp. +
Arthur C. Clarke – 2001 A Space Odyssey (1968) [Translated as 2001 ruimte odyssee (NL) by J.B. de Mare] – USA, 189pp. 1001 #
Sahar Khalifa – Al-Subar (Arabic) (1976) [Translated as De cactus: een Palestijnse roman (NL) by ?; Wild Thorns (Eng.) by Trevor Le Gassick & Elizabeth Warnock Fernea] – Palestine, 181pp. +
André Neuman – Hablar solos (Sp.) [Translated as Talking to Ourselves (Eng.) by Nick Caistor, Marjeta Drobnič & Lorenza García] – Argentina, 148pp. +
Cees Nooteboom – Rituelen (NL) (1980) [Translated as Rituals (Eng.) by Adrienne Dixon] – NL, 175pp. 1001
Ian Rankin – Schuld & Boete (Trans. Crime & Punishment – excerpts from different Rebus novels) – UK, 91pp.
George Sand – Leone Leoni (1997) (in Dutch, translated by Fieke Schoots?) – France, 116pp. ABC
Nawal El Saadawi – Mudhakkirât Tabiba (Arabic) (1958) [Translated as Wat bedoel je dat je de man bent (alt. title Dagboek van een vrouwelijke arts) (NL) by [Translated as ; Memoirs of a Woman Doctor (Eng.)] – Egypt, 87pp. +
Antonio Skármeta – Ardiente paciencia (Sp.) (1985) [Translated as De postbode van Neruda by Tess Zeiler, The Postman (Eng.) by Katherine Silver, filmed as Il postino (It.)] – Chile, 125pp. +%
Pramoedya Ananta Toer – Midah Simanis Bergigi Emas (Indonesian) (1955) [Translated as Midah, het Liefje met de Gouden Tand (NL) by Alfred van der Helm & Angela Rookmaaker] – Indonesia, 139pp.
Dutch novellas and book week gift books
Griet op de Beeck – Gezien de feiten (lit. In view of the facts) (2018) [Translated as Sa’t it lân derhinne leit (Western Frisian) by Jetske Bilker] – NL, 94pp.
Adriaan van Dis – In Afrika (1991) (lit. In Africa)- Mozambique, 167pp. +NF
Adriaan van Dis – Palmwijn (lit. Palm wine) (1996) [Translated as Vin de palme (Fr.) by Anne-Marie de Both-Diez – Africa, 93pp. +
Antoon Coolen – De vrouw met de zes slapers (lit. The woman with the six sleepers) (1955) – NL, 222pp. #%
Arnon Grunberg – De heilige Antonio (lit. The holy Antonio) (1998) [Translated as Der Heilige des Unmöglichen (Ger.) by Rainer Kersten] – NL, 95pp. ABC
Maria Jacobs – Vijfenvijftig sokken (1998) [lit. Fifty-five socks, translated by the author as A Safe House: Holland 1940-1945 ] – NL, 109pp. #NF
Arthur Japin – De grote wereld (lit. The wide world) (2006) [Translated as Suur maailm (Estonian)]- NL, 90pp.
Tim Krabbé – Een tafel vol vlinders (lit. A table full of butterflies) (2009) – NL, 89pp.
Jan Kuitenbrouwer – Turbotaal: van socio babble tot yuppie speak (lit. Yuppie language) (1989) – NL, 91pp. NF
Tom Lanoye – Heldere hemel (lit. Clear skies) [Translated as Tombé du ciel (2012) – Belgium, non-fiction, 92pp. NF
Harry Mulisch – Het theatre, de brief en de waarheid (lit. The theatre, the letter and the truth) [Translated as Das Theater, der Brief und die Wahrheit] (2000) – NL, 85pp.
Harry Mulisch – Twee vrouwen [Translated as Two Women (Eng.) by Els Early, Deux Femmes (Fr.) by Philippe Noble, Zwei Frauen (Ger.)] (1975) – NL, 131pp.
Cees Nooteboom – Het volgende verhaal [Translated as The Following Story (Eng.) by Ina Rilke, Die folgende Geschichte (Ger.) by Ina Rilke, L’histoire suivante (Fr.) by Philippe Noble, La historia siguiente (Sp.), A História Seguinte (Port.) by Ana Maria Carvalho, La storia sequente (It.) by Fulvio Ferrari] (1991) – Portugal, 91pp.
Connie Palmen – De erfenis (lit. The inheritance) (1999) [Translated by Die Erbschaft (Ger.) by Hannie Ehlers] – NL, 96pp.
Piet Grijs – Het grijsboek, of de nagelaten bekentenissen van Raoul Chapkis (lit. The grey book, or the confessions left by Raoul Chapkis) (1970) – NL, 144pp. ABC
Leonhard Huizinga – Twaalf maanden Joost (lit. Twelve months of Joost) (1959) – NL, 154pp. #ABC
Geert Mak – De brug (2007) [Translated as The Bridge: A Journey Between Orient and Occident (Eng.) by Sam Garrett, Die Brücke Von Istanbul (Ger.), Köprü (Turk.) by Gül Özlen, Most (Croatian) by Romana Perečinec] – Turkey, 92pp.
Charles den Tex – Onmacht (lit. Powerlessness) (2010) – NL, 92pp.
Thomas Rosenboom – Spitzen (lit. Point shoes) (2004) [Translated as Tango (Ger.) by Marlene Müller-Haas, Le danseur de tango – NL] – 92pp.
Tomas Ross – De klokkenluider (lit. The bell ringer or The whistleblower) (2003) – NL, 96pp.
Tommy Wieringa – Een mooie jonge vrouw (2014)[Translated as A Beautiful Young Wife (Eng.) by Sam Garrett, Eine schöne junge Frau (Ger.) by Bettina Bach, Une femme jeune et belle (Fr.) by Bertrand Abraham, Una moglie giovane e bella (It.) by Claudia Cozzi & Claudia Di Palermo] – NL, 96pp.
Ivan Wolffers – Gekleurd Nederland (lit. The Coloured Netherlands) (1999) – NL, 175pp. NF
Joost Zwagerman – Duel [Translated as Duell (Ger.) by Gregor Seferens] (2010) – NL, 95pp.