17 intriguing novellas you can read in a day (or an afternoon)

If you are looking for a quick read during “lockdown”, something that will absorb you and take you out of yourself for a few hours, you can’t go past a short novel.

I have a penchant for books with fewer than 200 pages and thought I’d list some of my favourites here.

All these books can easily be read in the space of a day — or an afternoon. They have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. To see a full review, simply click the book title.

Cover image of A Month in the Country by JL Carr

A Month in the Country by JL Carr (1980)
Escape to a long-lost English summer in this subtle tale of a young soldier who returns from the Great War and undertakes a special project: to uncover a medieval mural inside a church.

Academy Street by Mary Costello (2014)
Follow all the joy and heartaches in the life of a passive, too-afraid-to-grab-life-by-the-horns Irishwoman from her girlhood in rural Ireland to her retirement in New York more than half a century later.

The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984)
Immerse yourself in this evocative and sensual story set in 1930s Indo-China which revolves around a teenage girl’s affair with a man 12 years her senior.

Bad Intentions by Karin Fossum (2011)
Discover a crime book with a difference in this fast-paced story about three men who go on a weekend trip to an isolated cabin by a lake — but only two of them return.

Small Circle of Beings

Small Circle of Beings by Damon Galgut (2005)
Learn about a stubborn South African mother who fails to take her young son to hospital when he falls dangerously ill — will you condemn her or feel empathy?

Of a Boy by Sonya Hartnett (2009)
Spend time in the head of a scared, lonely schoolboy who convinces himself that the three children who move in across the road are the same children whose recent disappearance now fills the TV news.

Snake by Kate Jennings

Snake by Kate Jennings (2001)
Meet Rex and Irene, a married couple living on an outback farm in post-war Australia, who hate each other but must muddle on regardless.

The Long Dry by Cynan Jones (2014) 
Accompany Gareth as he spends an entire day trudging the hills of his Welsh farm looking for a missing cow —  and along the way learn about his hopes, his dreams and the love he has for his wife and children.

Cal by Bernard MacLaverty (1983)
Get caught up in an affair between a Catholic man and an older Protestant woman during the height of The Troubles in Northern Ireland — and be prepared for a heart-rending morally challenging ride.

Explorers of the new century by

Explorers of the New Century by Magnus Mills (2006)
Strap yourself in for a totally bonkers competition between two groups of explorers competing to reach the “furtherest point from civilisation” — expect many laughs and quite a lot of WTF moments!

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon (2012)
Take 15-year-old sharp-tongued Mary by the hand in “this year of lord eighteen hundred and thirty” and go with her as she is forced to work at the local vicarage as the live-in help.

Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney (1985)
Experience life as an out-of-work fact-checker in 1980s New York — go to all the parties, take all the drugs, but don’t let on your glamourous wife has left you, and do your best not to fall apart at the seams.

You by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (2010)
Meet a funny, feisty 10-year-old narrator caught between two families —  her mother and her new boyfriend; and her father and his new wife — in 1980s Dublin.

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (2010)
Be charmed by the relationship between a young housekeeper and her client, an elderly mathematics professor whose short-term memory only lasts 80 minutes.

The Ice Palace by Tarjei Vesaas (1966)
Succumb to the mystery of an intense friendship between two 11-year-old girls, one of whom disappears in the “ice palace”, a frozen waterfall, in rural Norway.

The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke (1990)
Sit around the dinner table with a German family awaiting the arrival of the patriarch so that they can all celebrate his promotion with mussels and wine — but why is he so late?

The Death of Murat Idrissi by Tommy Wieringa (2019)
Travel abroad with two young women from the Netherlands, on holiday in Morocco, who agree to help smuggle a young man across the border into Europe — with deadly repercussions.

Have you read any of these? Do you have a favourite novella? Or can you recommend a few that I haven’t put on my list?

31 thoughts on “17 intriguing novellas you can read in a day (or an afternoon)

  1. An interesting list, and I’d’ve chosen the Carr too – it’s perfect. Vita Sackville-West’s “The Heir” is a good one, and you remind me I have unread Peirene Press books lurking. Their “The Last Summer” was fab!

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    • Oh, I will add the Vita Sackville-West to my list. About time I read something by her. And yes, I could have put all the Peirene titles I’ve read here as I’m yet to read one I haven’t liked.

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  2. I love Bonjour Tristesse and some recent favs are Ghachar Ghochar by Vivek Sandbhag and Such Small Hands by Andres Barbar. Great list though – I have Academy Street so might pick that up soon!

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  3. This is a wonderful list of novellas. I’ve read three: Snake, The Long Dry, and Cal. The two I most want to read are A Month in the Country and Explorers of the New Century. Magnus Mills is one of my favorites and Explorers is one that I missed.

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  4. Great list thank you.I have just reread Of A Boy (my only reread ever!) and was reminded why I loved it so much the first time.I have 9 books in my lockdown tbr one of which is A Month in the Country.I would add to your list two Julian Barnes Novellas,The Only Story and Sense of An Ending as worth picking up

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    • Thanks for your comment, Mary. I really ought to read some Barnes. I have both of those in my TBR back in London (I left most of my books behind when I repatriated with a view to rescuing them when my Irish partner moved over to join me.) I hope you get to read A Month in the Country… it’s a very soothing read.

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  5. The novellas that I have enjoyed have all been Sci fi and speculative, so thankyou for the list of general/literary fiction novellas. My favourites have been Passing Strange by Elllen Klages, River of Teeth and Taste of Marrow by Sarah Gailey and the Murderbot series by Martha Wells starting with All Systems Red.

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    • I don’t really read sci-fi & speculative fiction but am always willing to read outside of my comfort zone, so thanks for the suggestions. I will look them up!

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    • Ice by Anna Kavan is one of those books I’ve always meant to read… must see if I can maybe get a cheap Kindle edition. I think I’ve spent my quota on physical books at New Edition this month.

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  6. Pingback: Winding Up the Week #117 – Book Jotter

  7. I love novellas, but have only read Snake from your list. I do have a couple of my TBR – The lover (actually hold) and The housekeeper and the professor (on my virtual pile!) I have quite a few favourites of my one, one being Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Chronicle of a death foretold. And, an Australian one is Elizabeth Jolley’s The newspaper of Claremont Street.

    A few here interest me, but probably the prime one is The mussel feast.

    I’m intrigued that quite a few here have young protagonists, or are about youth. Just an observation.

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    • Oh, yes, I’ve read that Jolley… and very good it is too! You must read The Mussel Feast… I’ve read it three times and I don’t normally do re-reads. Interesting observation about young protagonists/youth…hadn’t clocked that…

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  8. I’ve read some of these and heaps of others which are filed under FORM/Novellas on my blog, but I’ll take the opportunity to spruik the Viva La Novella Prize which awards publication to two novellas every year. I’ve never had a disappointment yet:)
    By coincidence, I’ve just reviewed Late Sonata by Bryan Walpert who was co-winner this year along with Lana Guineay’s Dark Wave which the judges said was “a brilliant reworking of the classic crime novel”.

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    • Thanks, Lisa. You might not have clocked that this is an old post & you commented on it when I first posted it back in April. Thanks for recommending the Viva La Novella Prize; I already purchased 5 of their novellas when you reviewed the Walpert book (I think) but was disappointed they were only ebooks.

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  9. I would recommend those published by @seizureonline.com I have been reading the winners of The Seizure Viva La Novella Prize each year and they are all exceptional. Highly recommended is The Neighbour by Julie Proudfoot and Ways Of Seeing by Christy Collins.

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    • I bought a bunch of those online recently but was annoyed that after I clicked “pay now” I discovered they were ebooks and in a file format not compatible with kindle. 🙄 Fortunately I figured out how to change the file format and manually load them onto my device but it’s not an experience I’d want to repeat in a hurry.

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  10. Pingback: Novellas in November Begins! | Bookish Beck

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