Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Short books, with a side of Hamilton, please

Dan Rhodes lists his top 10 short novels, all under 200 pages. "All killer, no filler." (I've read, and loved, half of them.) Perhaps the novella is due for a comeback.

On the list: The Plains of Cement, by Patrick Hamilton. "The Plains of Cement is brilliantly excruciating — Hamilton tortures his characters, the reader and, I expect, himself. He's the best pub writer I know."

The Plains of Cement is the last book, and my favourite, in the trilogy published as Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky. I've quoted from it here, and then discussed it a bit further.

As for short books, I like them. Long is good too. Both have their time and their place. Short has the advantage of slipping into my bag easily. For this reason this morning in my travels across the city I started reading Cynthia Ozick's The Messiah of Stockholm — I'm loving it already and can see it claiming a position on my own list of best short books.

What short novels are your favourites?


Stefanie said...

Hmm, I have to start paying better attention because I can't think of any short novels I've really loved.

Tim said...

Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez is definitely on my list of favorite short novels, as is In Praise of the Stepmother by Mario Vargas Llosa, Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, A Man Without A Country by Vonnegut (not really a novel though), and that once-a-year Dickens’ read, A Christmas Carol. I'm sure there are others but that's all that's jumping into my head at the moment.

kimbofo said...

Great post. I love novellas, but haven't read enough of them. I'm pretty sure they're coming back in vogue. The book shop near my office had a big display of re-published novellas last time I dropped by, but I can't remember what publisher was putting them out. If it comes to me, I'll let you know...

Anyway, some of the novellas I like are:

Most of Truman Capote's stuff.

Alessandro Baricco's "Silk" and "Without Blood"

Fran├žoise Sagan's "Bonjour Tristesse"

GaelicGrl said...

Notes from Underground (Dostoyevski), Breakfast At Tiffany's (Capote) and The Turn of the Screw (James).

That's all I can think of at the moment.

Isabella said...

Scanning my bookshelves I'm finding a lot of great short novels. I agree with Rhodes on Capote and Voltaire (and Hamilton, if I haven't already made that clear).

I note that my own copy of Catcher in the Rye is just over 200 pages, but I assume Rhodes subtracted the front matter. Though I have a sentimental attachment to it, I'm not sure it'd make my final list.

From my own shelves I'd add:
City of Glass, Paul Auster
Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino
The Gambler, Dostoevsky
The Eighth Day of the Week, Marek Hlasko
The Fifth Child, Doris Lessing
The First Century After Beatrice, Amin Maalouf

And I'll put in a good word in for Steve Martin's novellas, which I find delightful.

Bruno Schulz's Street of Crocodiles is definitely short and worth reading. It's still too fresh for me to think of it as a favourite. The Ozick book meanwhile is blowing me away.

Stefanie: You'd be surprised. Many of my favourites when I looked them up are much shorter than I thought.

Tim: Funny, I've read all the authors you mention but none of the specific books you cite. While I love Hemingway, I fear I'll hate Old Man and the Sea, I don't know why. I'll read it some day.

Kim: I must read Silk. I've heard nothing but good things about it. I would love to see classic novellas republished — I only wish they were priced according to page count.

John Self said...

Dr Haggard's Disease by Patrick McGrath: 180 pages of beautiful madness. Currently rereading another old favourite, Adam Mars-Jones's The Waters of Thirst.