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The Curious Case of the Novella
August 28, 2012

Welcome to our August issue of the Book Lovers Club News. In this issue I shall talk in some length of the fine but intriguing difference between the novel and the novella. During the course of my research on this topic, I realized that many popular books reviewed on, are in fact novellas.

The Novella

The Old Man And The Sea-Ernest Hemmingway The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards, defines the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000. The novel, in turn, is defined as a work of fiction that has a word count of 40,000 or more. But to restrict the distinction between the two art forms to a mere count of words would be the same as saying, in the words of Canadian author George Fetherling, “a pony is a baby horse."

There are many stylistic implications of a shorter piece of fiction. The plot is tighter, the storyline is less complex, and the characterization is succinct. So in many ways, reading a good novella may prove to be a more intense experience. Umm, er, and the novella does not have any chapter breaks.

In fact, in the novella anthology titled Sailing to Byzantium, Robert Silverberg writes: “[The novella] is one of the richest and most rewarding of literary allows for more extended development of theme and character than does the short story, without making the elaborate structural demands of the full-length book. Thus it provides an intense, detailed exploration of its subject, providing to some degree both the concentrated focus of the short story and the broad scope of the novel.”

Some notable examples of the novella include: John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, George Orwell's Animal Farm, Truman Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea , Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness, H.G. Wells' The Time Machine.

We have reviews of quite a few books from the above list. Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, my personal favorite, provides a perfect case in point. The plot of this novella, is quite simple really. The book elaborates on the futile fishing expedition of an infirm but needy old fisherman. The story builds up around his extensive and rigorous struggle to succeed and climaxes on his catch. However the tale has a saddening anti-climax that shows the old man in a noble martyr-like light. The length of the book is just right to describe the long-drawn struggle of a lonely man. It highlights a single facet of the protagonist, making the narrative taut and powerful.

Book Review Circle gossip

Not everyone is a big fan of the novella. Stephen King, in his introduction to Different Seasons, a collection of four novellas, has called the novella "an ill-defined and disreputable literary banana republic". I found the Afterword of the same book, to be particularly enjoyable with many insightful reflections on the novella.

Book Review Circle suggested read:

Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. You can read a review of the book by clicking here.

Test your Literary Quotient

See if you know answers to the following
  1. Name a famous series of novellas dating back to the 10th century.
  2. What is a novelette?
  3. Name a novella that is a part of the American Library Association's list of the Most Challenged Books of 21st Century?


  1. One Thousand and One Nights, also known as the Arabian Nights
  2. A piece of short prose fiction. The distinction between a novelette and other literary forms is usually based upon word count, with a novelette being longer than a short story, but shorter than a novella. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula awards for science fiction define the novelette as having a word count of between 7,500 and 17,500.
  3. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Do write in to me at with your comments, updates and suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you.

Ok. I will leave you to munch on that.

Happy reading till we meet again.


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