I’ve never been much of an Ian McEwan fan, but his post this week at the New Yorker’s Page-Turner blog may make me think again. Here, McEwan writes in defense of that finest of all literary forms, the novella: “between twenty and forty thousand words, long enough for a reader to inhabit a world or a consciousness and be kept there, short enough to be read in a sitting or two and for the whole structure to be held in mind at first encounter.”
Yes, yes, I want to say: Absolutely. I love the novella and always have. It offers the immediacy of a short story mixed with (at least some of) the depth of the novel — a slice of life, a series of moments, digestible and complex all at once.
“I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction,” McEwan writes. “It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days). And this child is the means by which many first know our greatest writers. Readers come to Thomas Mann by way of ‘Death in Venice,’ Henry James by ‘The Turn of the Screw,’ Kafka by ‘Metamorphosis,’ Joseph Conrad by ‘Heart of Darkness,’ Albert Camus by ‘L’Etranger.’ I could go on: Voltaire, Tolstoy, Joyce, Solzhenitsyn. And Orwell, Steinbeck, Pynchon. And Melville, Lawrence, Munro. The tradition is long and glorious.”