The novella lurks on the margins of the English-language
literary world. Its history includes such masterpieces as Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice, and H.G. Wells's The Time
Machine.In North America, at least, novellas are rarely published alone. Instead they typically appear in threes (Richard Ford’s Women with Men, 1997; Rick Moody’s Right Livelihoods: Three Novellas, 2007)
or with a number of short stories (Mavis Gallant, The
Pegnitz Junction, 1973; Julie Keith’s The
Devil Out There, 2000). That's when they appear at all.
It’s not as though we have such precise notions of the
length of a novel, often described as being a narrative fiction "of a certain length.” Novels published tend to be in the 80,000-120,000 word range.
“A cap of about 110K seems to be the ‘industry hard cover standard’".The
novella clocks in around 30,000-50,000 words: “Very
much too long to be a
short story, and very much too short to be a novel, according to one guide, who urges writers to stretch the novella into a novel. Or to tuck it into a desk drawer until after you've written and published three novels.
Are there economic reasons that can explain the otherwise
odd prejudice against the novella? There are certainly arguments, some of them economic, to be made for
brevity, not to mention the possibility of wit.
All the more reason, surely, to cheer for these dry, wry comments
recently quoted in The New York Times:"Let’s free the novella of prizes and awards and
citations and all manner of gold star. Let’s fail to educate our students about
the novella, fail to convince them of its charms. That way, we need never be
nostalgic for the Golden Age of the novella. We’ve got something they don’t
want, a noncommodity, and we need to look out for it.”
These comments are adapted
from "The Three-Day Weekend Plan," an essay by John Brandon in The Late American Novel: Writers on the
Future of Books (Soft Skull, 2011). Brandon finds a volume of three
novellas “more intriguing than one flabby novel.” I find it curious that, as a
lover of the novella, he does not speak on behalf of the slim volume with a
Someone should tell him
about Toronto’s Quattro Books, a publisher of single-volume novellas including
Amela Marin’s The Sea and Tobacco Wars, by Paul Seesequasis (both published