Obooki’s Novella Week

It’s was nice to get annoyed at the books I was reading the other week and decide to give up on a whole bunch (perhaps permanently, perhaps not). Always having to be finishing books bores me so much; I much prefer merely starting them. Anyway, it got me looking round my bookcase at the vast and frightening expanses of unread novels that are still patiently waiting. The book I actually ended up picking out and reading was Dostoevsky’s 1876 novella, The Gentle Maiden. (The date, you’ll notice, puts it between The Demons – or, more specifically, the interestingly obscure The Adolescent – and The Brothers Karamazov in his bibliography).

The Gentle Maiden is a fascinating novella – one of those ideas of the c20th which the c19th has inconveniently borrowed. A man’s wife commits suicide by throwing herself from a window – the novel beginning with her husband standing in front of her body a few hours afterwards, and consisting of his attempts to construct a coherent narrative which might explain why she did it and what his part was, if any, in her decision. You can’t get more unreliable-narrator than this! – It must have been perplexing to a Victorian audience though who, as we all know, could see into other people mind’s at will, thanks to the existence of God (or something like that, I forget exactly how the argument goes).

Anyway, it’s got me interested in reading some novellas – something I’ve been lax at doing – I think, because of the pressure I put on myself to get Books Read – but which I enjoy, so I thought I’d have a week (a week and a day?) of them: – something I last did about fifteen years ago – you know, back in the age before the internet, when I did things like that just for the hell of it, rather than in order to have something to (not) blog about. Here’s my choices, some of which I’ve been meaning to get around to for a long time now:

  • The Landlady, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (97pp)
  • Un Bel Morir, by Alvaro Mutis (104pp)
  • Michael Kohlhaas, by Heinrich von Kleist (96pp)
  • The Forest Path to the Spring, by Malcolm Lowry (71pp)
  • Master Flea, by E.T.A. Hoffmann (137pp)
  • Cutting It Short, by Bohumil Hrabal (131pp)
  • Autumn Sonata, by Ramón del Valle-Inclán (83pp)
  • A Week in a Quiet House, by Jan Neruda (107pp)
  • Travels of Benjamin III, by Mendele Moykher-Sforim (116pp)

7 thoughts on “Obooki’s Novella Week

  1. I think I mentioned Kohlhaas before, I have the Lowry as well (at least I presume it’s in the Lowry anthology I have – need to check). I’ll try to read them in due course. I have some short stuff by Pushkin, Turgenev, Henry James and Maupassant lying around as well.

    I’d like an “I Heart Novellas” t-shirt, should such a thing exist. Melville House have a cracking series of both “classic” and “contemporary”. I must look up some of the names you mention as well.

  2. Yes, I though I’d better get around to the Kohlhaas finally after you mentioned it. – The Lowry is from the Hear Us O Lord From Heaven Thy Dwelling Place collection. I was actually thinking of reading Lunar Caustic, but it turned out to be too short. – James is of course a novella master, but I don’t think I’ve got any unread. (I am actually reading some James at the moment – though it’s 500+ pages, so I’ll probably finish it some time next year. – As usual, it’s one of his more obscure titles).

    I’m already so enthused by this novella week that I might have another one next month – I’ve certainly been looking round my bookshelves at the possibilities (and I haven’t even got to the area where all my short story collections are yet, since it takes too much manoeuvring of other books now to reach it). Although, on the other hand, I was beginning to have other plans for next month.

  3. I got within 50 pages of the end of Dostoyevsky’s Demons last year and was so frustrated by the run-on “style” that I had to take a break that has now lasted months. Kind of silly, I know, but I can identify with your sentiments re: preferring to start books rather than finish them sometimes! Hearing about these novellas will be a nice thing for me considering I’ve read zero of them to date.

  4. Please pardon the “silent y” in my misspelling of Dostoevsky above. My proofreader is on vacation this week…

  5. That Lowry piece is indeed included – I have the collection The Voyage That Never Ends from NYRB.

    Does Daisy Miller count as a novella? – it’s pretty short, anyhow.

  6. You can spell Dostoyevsky with a “y” if you like – there’s nothing stopping you. The edition in front of me does, if it comes to that.

    I imagine I’ve read Daisy Miller, though I can’t remember it. In fact, the only James novel are remember much are The Turn of the Screw and The Private Life.

    My categorisation is books for my Books Read list is: under 50pp, short story; 50-100pp novella; 100+ novel – though it becomes more complicated with books containing a mixture of lengths. For this purpose, I’ve decided to assume novella is 50-150pp.

  7. I added one more title, to “round” it off to nine (for reasons which will no doubt never become apparent).

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