Poor novellas. They are the middle-child, of the book world, always struggling to be noticed between their bigger and littler counterparts – too short to be novels, too long to be short stories. Overlooked in many lists of excellent literature, novellas just don't get their due, and some readers might not even realise that some of their most beloved stories were novellas. Lacking the compact one-two punch of a short story and the delicious, slowly-unfolding anticipation in a novel, it might be easy to dismiss the novella as a bland middle ground. But that would be a mistake. Sometimes a novella is just the thing.
There is some dissent over the exact length requirements of novellas. In fact, two that we've included here are often called into question - Annie Proulx's Brokeback Mountain is argued to be a short story by some and a novella by others. Conversely, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes has been categorised both as a novel and a novella by various sources, and when it won the Booker Prize in 2011, there was some grumbling that it was not, in the strictest sense, a novel.
There is a wide range, rarely agreed upon, but the outside estimate is approximately 10,000-70,000 words – and that can be just the right length. A novella gives the reader enough time to be immersed in the story, form attachments to characters and be emotionally invested in outcomes. They have time to develop real conflicts, but are forced by definition to skip pages and pages of minute, agonising detail for detail’s sake (I’m looking at you, Tolkien), thereby reducing reader fatigue.Yet many can still be enjoyed during a layover or a ferry trip. Many teachers of children and teenagers have utilised novellas to introduce students to more sophisticated literature without overwhelming them with a 500-page behemoth.
But don't let their brevity trick you into dismissing them as fluff – some very important, rich literature has come in novella form. Among the best known would be Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. But there are many more than most people realise. Have a look through our selection of the best novellas. We’ve included some lesser-known choices, as well as a few classics – you may be surprised to find your new favourite book in the form of the humble novella.
The Old Man and the Sea
by Ernest Hemingway