Novelist Cynan Jones once wrote that in short fiction, “every word is doing a job. So be careful. A short novel is an event, not a journey ”. The Swedish Academy recognized this this week when it awarded the 2022 Nobel Prize in Literature to French writer Annie Ernaux, whose famous short and ruthless books on women, sex and shame defy collective notions of memory. Some short, breathtaking novels are some of the best English literature has to offer (think Giovanni’s roomor Wide Sargasso Sea). The form concentrates the language and the plot so tightly that rereading is a pleasure.
Below are seven books that each take no more than a weekend or so to finish. This does not mean that they are superficial: they are instead examples of the power and range of short novels. They come from multiple languages in more than a century and a half and excel at dealing with complex situations without overly complicated writing.
The uncommon reader, by Alan Bennett
In the novel by famed playwright Alan Bennett, Queen Elizabeth II accidentally discovers a traveling library in a van and becomes addicted to reading, with unexpected and sometimes hilarious results. She attempts to shake off various royal obligations by claiming to be involved in her latest book, and when her private secretary, Sir Kevin, suggests that HRH could “leverage your reading for a broader purpose: literacy for the nation as a whole. , for example, “he replies curtly” Read it please … It is not a public duty. ” Her family appreciates her new pastime because it means she leaves them alone, but things change as the queen gets sloppier in her clothing choices and spends more and more time talking about books with courtiers she couldn’t. to care less about literature. It is not the story of a monarch who wants to become an author or an expert; rather, it is that of a woman in a public role who wishes, like so many other committed women, to reclaim a private space for her own peace.
The crocodileby Fyodor Dostoevsky
This is often characterized as a short story, but it is substantial enough to have been published several times in its own volume. The crocodile, by the great Russian writer Dostoevsky, is incredibly short, and it’s a sharp, toothy social satire. The narrator accompanies his friend Ivan and Ivan’s wife Elena to a public show that includes the beast of the same name. Said creature swallows Ivan and various characters from different stations discuss what to do for him or not to do it. Is a crocodile with a man inside a more expensive novelty act? If the crocodile is killed to save Ivan, is it a waste of valuable property? What gives this the immersive reach of a novel, rather than that of a novel or short story, is the high stakes of bystanders’ decisions and the shocking revelations of Ivan’s wife, which will affect his future – in the meanwhile, Ivan finds the new neighborhoods more and more welcoming and hospitable for his paperwork. The crocodile it’s a darkly entertaining examination of a culture caught between kindness and productivity, a culture that, like ours, couples too much information with too little listening to others.
The loverby Margherita Duras
“The lover it’s a load of shit, “Duras told a colleague.” It’s an airport novel. I wrote it when I was drunk. ” The last sentence is probably true; Duras has spent most of his life drinking. But those who have read The lover acknowledge the shocking immediacy of his narrator’s perspective, which defies his characterization of his work, and draws on Duras’s memory of what his teenage life was like in then-French Indochina (in what is now Vietnam). Like his young narrator, Duras had an affair with a much older man; however, the author did not write The lover until the age of 70, creating the hypnotic language of the novel, combining a keen personal memory with a young man’s scant adult knowledge of love and desire, even more compelling. The relationship he lives takes place in a strange bubble, connected to different, dramatic types of power. Only from the advantage of old age Duras, whose writing constantly deals with sexuality and self-control, can he recognize that there was some kind of true love between his past self and the older man.
Visitby Jenny Erpenbeck
Erpenbeck, born and raised behind the Iron Curtain in East Berlin, titled her 2008 novel Heimsuchung, which means “look for a house”. While Visit it is an elegant English translation, it does not fully express what the author does with the house on which the novel revolves. That building is set along a lake in Germany, and in the prologue, Erpenbeck traces the history of the setting for over 24,000 years, as it changes from a Paleolithic glacier to “a gentle hill above where the house stands,” he writes. That time scale makes man-made disasters, like global warming and war, feel sudden and violent when they appear. Most of this exquisite book, however, focuses on a narrow span of time, following the fate of the house’s inhabitants during Germany’s turbulent 20th century. In the late 1930s, its Jewish owners sell it and manage to acquire visas. Their son can emigrate, but his parents and other relatives are not so lucky. One, a young girl who dies after being confined to a Polish ghetto, receives the most important chapter of the book and her story balances Erpenbeck’s objective tone. Although the omniscient narrator reserves her judgment, after exposing the forces that determine the girl’s fate, the book’s condemnation of fascism is devastating.
On the beach of Chesilby Ian McEwan
In this elegiac novel, the wedding night of two English virgins, Edward and Florence, in the early 1960s, somehow turns into a discourse on fear, choice and love. Every little action the couple takes, every grim detail of their coastal hotel, contributes to an atmosphere of frustration and indecision in the story. Florence, already an established string musician at 22, has great confidence on the concert stage, but she fears sexual relations (and perhaps men too). However, she really loves Edward, who hopes for a career as a historian, and she awkwardly tells him that if sex is that important, then she doesn’t care if she does it with other women. Young, reckless and angry, Edward allows Florence to leave their marriage, but they never forget each other, and their unconsummated, ultimately undone union mimics the unattainable freedom of the Swinging 1960s that their relationship just preceded. It is a delicately constructed book and tuned with the same care as a precious violin.
The bluest eyeby Toni Morrison
One of Morrison’s hardest and most difficult works, The bluest eye it is also one of his deepest and most true. Set in Morrison’s hometown of Lorain, Ohio, this novel follows the narrator, Claudia, and her sister Frieda, black girls who in many ways feel ignored in their community, just as their friend Pecola Breedlove does. Pecola, however, craves her blue eyes so much that she goes mad, or maybe breaks because her father, Cholly, rapes her and she becomes pregnant with a child who does not survive. Morrison only needs a little over 200 pages to create a complete novel about what is seen and not seen, what we overlook in other people and how society produces beauty. Sexual abuse in The bluest eye it’s hard to read, but the book wants you to look directly at it against the abuse of racism and, perhaps, gain an idea of how grotesquely such a double bind affects these characters and their choices.
Woman grocery storeby Sayaka Murata
Keiko Furukura, 36, works in a franchise that sells sundries such as cold drinks, sandwiches, and seasonal gifts. Eighteen years in the same job went well with Miss Furukura, who she knows is not exactly the same as other people; when her colleagues are outraged about something, she keiko tries to mimic their facial expressions and vocal tones so that she doesn’t sound weird. A new employee named Shiraha is fired and, after Keiko sees him walking around the building, devises a plan that could benefit both of them: They will pretend to be a couple with a “normal” family life for the sake of appearances. Murata manages to make Keiko’s first-person narrative be completely understanding, even when her behavior seems hostile or aggressive. Woman grocery store takes a staple of Japanese life – the tidy and well-stocked neighborhood store – and uses it to demonstrate how difficult it can be to remain part of a society that actively disdains those who don’t fit into ordered categories.
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