It would have been easy to consider this year’s Novellas in November event (ha!) a failure. Rather than the dozen or so books I’d planned on reading, I only read six. Rather than write a few update posts throughout the month, I wrote exactly one, that which you’re reading right now. I didn’t post a single thing on Twitter, I didn’t really engage with anyone else reading novellas this month, and altogether, I kind of half-assed the thing.
Or, at least, that’s how the old Rick would have viewed things. Today I stand (?) before you a more mature blogger. Or maybe just a less neurotic one. Because even though I only read half of the novellas I wanted to, I still read six novellas this month. More than I’ve read in the last two years combined. That’s a win, any way you slice it. And I had a blast.
I’m ending Novellas in November with a huge smile on my face, and not just because of the books I read. No, there’s also a little serendipity involved. Today, on the last day of November, I learned that The New Yorker now has an online Novellas Section, for the first time in the magazine’s history.
The New Yorker has always been famous for running short stories in their magazines, but they’ve never been able to tackle novellas because of the length required to do so. Until now. On November 20th the magazine launched the new initiative, which–if industry insiders can be trusted–will be a big step towards re-establishing the novella as a valid, popular art form.
Their first novella, In Hindsight by Callan Wink, is available here. And it’s free. Possibly. The New Yorker does have a paywall, but you can read six articles a month before you hit it, so you have more than enough freebies available to read the novellas they publish (no word yet on how often they’ll be putting these online).
So your novella reading doesn’t have to end with Novellas in November! Today is a good day.
As for the novellas I read this month, let’s go ahead and dive right into them.
Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis
I already wrote about this book at length a few weeks ago, as part of my 2015 Giller Nominees series.
Since then, the book went on to win the Giller (which was slightly disappointing for me, as I wanted Daydreams of Angels to win instead).
Needless to say, it’s pretty great. It was a wonderful way to start the month, and it ended up being one of my better reads, too.
If you’re interested in my deeper thoughts on the book, please go back and read my post on it. I’d love to talk to you about it!
Rank: 2nd place
Carmella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu
This one came completely by surprise. I had no intention of reading this–I actually never even heard of the story until a day or two before I started it–but I’m glad I did.
I didn’t actually read Carmilla, though. In a Novellas in November first (of two!), I listened to this on audiobook. The reason? The phenomenal David Tennant (of Doctor Who fame) was one of the voices. It clocks in at a tight 2 hrs 22 mins, so you can bang it out in a sitting pretty easily. I’d recommend it, if you’re curious.
Carmilla is a vampire story, which is interesting for a few reasons. One, it was published in 1872, making it one of the oldest vampire stories in existence. Two, it actually predates Bram Stoker’s classic Dracula by 25 years. Three, it tells the story of a female vampire, named Carmilla. Four, it even involved some lady-on-lady action, which is just insane for a book that’s 143 years old.
It was pretty great. The audiobook version was wonderful, but I’d suggest that route only if you can get it at a good price. If it’s like $5-$10 then it’s worth it. If it’s more than that, the 2 hour running time might not sit so well with you.
If you’re a Tennant fan like me, he also does the audio narration for Andrew Motion’s Silver.
Rank: 5th place
The Hedge Knight by George R. R. Martin
The Hedge Knight is one of three novellas set in Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire universe, and they’ve recently been collected in the book A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms. My original plan was to read all three this month, but one seemed to be enough for me at the moment, even though I thought it was fantastic.
Taking place nearly a century before the events of A Game of Thrones, The Hedge Knight is, in essence, a prequel novella to Martin’s ongoing masterwork. It stars Dunk (Ser Duncan the Tall) and Egg (a young bald boy with an egg-like dome). Dunk and Egg set forth to the tourney at Ashford Meadow in search of fame and glory and the honor of upholding Duncan’s oath as a knight of the Seven Kingdoms. Unfortunately for him, the world isn’t ready for a knight who keeps his oaths, and his chivalrous methods could be the very cause of his demise.
This is basically a straight up adventure tale, with a few fun twists thrown in. It’s pretty much what you’ve come to expect from Martin. And even though the quality isn’t quite on par with the main series (few things are), it’s an entertaining read.
I actually read the graphic novel version of this story a few years ago, and I was surprised to discover that the graphic version is every bit as good as this one. So if you lean more towards that direction, I’d suggest going that route.
As with Carmilla, I listened to The Hedge Knight on audiobook. Harry Lloyd, who played Viserys Targaryen on Game of Thrones, narrates it and he’s really solid. He definitely has a voice career post-acting, if he wants it.
Rank: 3rd place
Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
I was pleasantly surprised with Peter Pan. I didn’t expect to enjoy the children’s tale from 1902, but I really, really liked it.
Everyone knows the story of the boy who never grew up, so I won’t bother recounting it for you here. But what struck me as an adult reading this story was that I found it less a metaphor for immaturity and more about conformity (infinitely more interesting, to me).
The book was a lot more sinister than I thought it would be (even though, on the whole, it’s quite whimsical). There’s some great stuff about parenthood and social responsibility. All wrapped up in an “awfully big adventure.”
It’s far from perfect, but I really liked it. A great, quick read to add to your Classics Club list, perhaps?
Rank: 4th place
The Tenth Man by Graham Greene
It’s the mark of a really good month of reading that The Tenth Man ended up being my least favourite of the novellas I read, because this is a pretty interesting book.
Set during World War II, The Tenth Man is about a group of men who are being held prisoner by the Germans. Their captors determine that three of them must die. This is the story of how one of those men trades his wealth for his life—and lives to pay for his act in utterly unexpected ways. So it’s not just a story; it’s a moral experiment.
It’s a cool story, but the story behind the story might be even cooler. Graham Greene originally wrote it as a screenplay back in 1937. He was working for MGM at the time, but nothing ended up becoming of it, so it languished in the void for nearly 50 years.
In 1983, MGM sold the rights to the story to British publisher Anthony Blond, who took the screenplay to Greene (who had completely forgotten about it by then) and allowed him to edit it into a novella.
In the introduction to the book, Greene writes that he actually prefers The Tenth Man (“in many ways”) to his most famous book (and one of the greatest films of all time), The Third Man.
So why was this my least favourite of the six novellas I read? Probably timing. If I’d read this at a different time of the month, it could very well have been higher on my list.
Rank: 6th place
Dragonflies by Grant Buday
I loved Dragonflies. Loved with a capital L. It was the absolutely perfect way to start my odyssey into The Odyssey.
This deeply imagined and exquisitely written novel details the last days of the Trojan War. Told from Odysseus’ perspective, it fleshes out the myth and mystery of one of the greatest stories in the Western canon.
Buday’s victory comes in his wonderfully human portrayal of Odysseus, who is so much more than the sly fox we’ve come to know him as. He’s incredibly likeable and empathetic here, as Buday delves into his uncertainties, his patient but ultimately flawed love, and his internal struggles over the gods, and fate, and their supposed place in his world.
Buday’s Odysseus doesn’t quite doubt the existence of the gods. He simply hates them for all that they do.
If I’d recommend any of these books, it would be Dragonflies. It’s a terrific way to revisit Homer’s old classic, and even if you’ve never read The Iliad, Dragonflies works on its own.
An absolute 5-star read.
Rank: 1st place
So there you have it. Another Novellas in November in the books.
Did you read any novellas this November? If you did, which ones were your favourites? What’s your favourite novella of all time? Have you read any of the ones on the list above?