Growing up an avid reader it was only natural that my ego would bloat and my smugness grow when I walked around with a 600 page book. There was nothing more satisfying for my middle school self than to show my love of reading by parading around an enormous tome of a book.
That changed with college.
It was in college that I fell in love with the novella.
Perhaps I learned that intelligence and love of reading is not based on the size and length of a book, but on the quality of the book and the integrity of the response it elicited from me.
Freed from the heavy burden of big books (and a big ego to go with it) I was finally able to explore and appreciate the delicate, yet powerful, quality of shorter narratives. I gobbled up short stories with flourish, marveled at the power of the play, and became infatuated with the novella.
For me the novella is the perfect combination of complexity and simplicity; it requires a particular awareness of style and tone and a purposeful sparseness, the kind of barrenness that fills in the gaps.
I was so taken with the novella that I wrote my senior thesis on two brilliant novellas by Willa Cather. O Pioneers! and My Mortal Enemy encompass the extraordinary beauty and barrenness that I had grown to love in the novella. Prose that has tremendous depth, an abundance of symbolic meaning, and a plot carried delicately and forcefully.
While I still love novels that are a normal length and still admire the tremendous genius and effort that it takes to write (and read) extremely long works, I find that the novella forces authors to a level of focused artistic integrity and purpose that is not always found in longer novels.
Plus the novella always felt more like a dance to me, and I do love to dance.
What’s your opinion? Novel or novella? What are some of your favorite novellas?
P.S. If you’re interested Ian McEwen wrote a fantastic post on novella’s for the New Yorker.