Category Archives: 100 Must-Read Novellas

In Appreciation of Saunders

george-saunders

Ever since I have read George Saunders I have been in awe of his writing. I may not have enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo the way I thought I would, but that’s hardly of concern when it comes to appreciating Saunders’ works. I think the beauty of Saunders beside the writing, is his capacity to create characters that are regular – they are flawed, broken, and perhaps have no capacity to be extraordinary and yet strangely enough they are.

Also, might I add the skill with which he writes or rather crafts a story. After Munro, if there is any other short-story writer I truly admire, it is him. Whether it is the idea of the fantastical merging with everyday living, or just the irony of getting through the day, Saunders literally saves a reading-slump-kind-of-day. You just have to read any short story written by him and it is worth it – every single word and every sentence.

Pastoralia was introduced to me by a friend and I cannot thank the friend enough. This collection of short-stories embodies the twisted, the lonely, and the post-modern version of American – served hot and ready to be slaughtered. Whether he talks about a couple living in a theme-park, where speaking is an offence (rings a bell given the times we live in?), or whether he is speaking of a male exotic dancer and his family, Saunders shows us a world that is funny and yet so scary, so familiar and strange, but above-all, so authentic and graceful in its prose.

Pastoralia

I must speak of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil here. This slim book is literally a tour-de-force (I know this word is way overused, however, I can’t help but use it for this one). This is the book about power-hungry, and demagogic Phil (again can’t help but relate it to the times we live in) and how his reign begins as people from one nation run into another for asylum.

Phil

Saunders has always sort of been prophetic when it comes to his stories, and whatever he chooses to write about really. Whether it is Tenth of December or In Persuasion Nation, both fantastic short-story collections, Saunders is on the top of his game, never missing a beat. His people are lost, maybe not even seeking redemption – all they want is their stories to be told, voices to be heard, and sometimes remain in the shadows battling their demons.

Tenth of December

The Brain-Dead Megaphone is perhaps one of the best collection of essays I have read in a long time. It is his first collection of essays and has trained himself to look at the real – ridden with a strangeness – in the political and cultural milieu. I loved the literary pieces in this book – Saunders’ view on Mark Twain, Vonnegut, and Barthelme – every essay is on point and showcases all the skewed characters chosen by the author.

Megaphone

This, I think in a very brief manner encapsulates his body of work that I have enjoyed and loved over the years. He is one writer that never disappoints and constantly delivers, no matter what. Read him and allow yourself to be taken in by his eccentric, mad, most illuminating prose.

Advertisements

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian by Upamanyu Chatterjee

The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian Title: The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian
Author: Upamanyu Chatterjee
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Publishing Pvt Ltd
ISBN: 978-9387693562
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

So, here’s the thing. I never took a shine to Upamanyu Chatterjee’s books. Especially, English, August. I somehow never could see myself in that place and time. And yet, as I turned the pages of this novella, I could not stop till I was done. I devoured it in one sitting and that’s perhaps the only way to read this book. Might I also add that I have also enjoyed “Way to Go” a lot.

Upamanyu Chatterjee’s work may seem linear and pretty straight-forward but it so isn’t. There are many layers to the narrative – some for you to mull over and reach your own conclusions and some that are perhaps in your face and easy to understand.

The book is about an entire family being wiped out in a fire. Who did it and why forms the crux of the tale. I could speak about the characters and motives and more but I have often realized that when it comes to a novella, it is the writing that is of the essence. Sure, characters matter the most and some do stand out in this one as well, like Madhusudan Sen, ICS who turns vegetarian until justice has been served. To me, the setting also was very important – 1949. And not to forget that the book fits the times we live in where a person’s eating habits are of most important in our country.

The structure of the novella is also such that it is fast-paced, moreover, Chatterjee has written this in really short chapters, which works even better. “The Revenge of the Non-Vegetarian” is a tale for our times. It is sad but true. Chatterjee’s writing of this one is surreal (maybe because it hits home). It is the kind of book that will be read and not forgotten.  You might not think about it regularly but it sure will resonate every now and then.

 

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane

Border Districts by Gerald Murnane Title: Border Districts
Author: Gerald Murnane
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
ISBN: 978-0374115753
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 Stars

Very cleverly, Border Districts calls itself a fiction. After reading the synopsis, and knowing that this book is about a man and the books he has read and the relationship he shares with them, I couldn’t help but smile and kind of relate to it. I hadn’t heard of Murnane before reading this book and now I am so in awe that I want to lay my hands on everything he has written.

“Border Districts” is a story of a man who moves to a remote town in the border country, where all he wants to do is spend the last years of his life. While he is doing that, he wants to look back at a lifetime of seeing and of reading. Of what he saw and what he read. The images, people and places he witnessed as he grew along the years and the fictional characters he came across, the words he soaked in and the books he cherished. And where memory enters any novel/novella, secrets are bound to make an appearance and that’s exactly what happens, which also play with your head.

Murnane’s writing is soothing and yet I could sense the urgency and the head-rush that came with it. Like I said, I had not heard of him until this read and now I can’t wait to read everything he has written. His prose jumps at you and takes you captive. It is that kind of power. The shifting of narrative between seeing and reading is seamless and maybe that’s why I was hooked the way I was.

“Border Districts” is mostly autobiographical in nature, based on Murnane’s move from Melbourne to a remote town. Australia for me has never come this alive in any book. Sometimes unexpected books and authors jump at you and before you know it, you are in love.

Ms. Ice Sandwich by Mieko Kawakami

Ms Ice SandwichTitle: Ms Ice Sandwich
Author: Mieko Kawakami
Publisher: Pushkin Press, Japanese Novella Series
ISBN: 978-1782273301
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 96
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

Now, we think we have read enough stories about first love but it is never enough. First love has its own charm of innocence, heartbreak, and above all the coming-of-age if it happens and when it does, sooner or later. “Ms Ice Sandwich” is one such book of first love, of young love, awkward love that is very happy being just an observer sometimes with want for nothing. You know the kind of love I am talking about, don’t you? We’ve all been there, in one way or another, haven’t we? This book is about those tender moments and I wish weren’t so short though.

A boy is obsessed (well, I wouldn’t call it obsessed, but more like enchanted) with a woman who sells premade sandwiches. He visits the supermarket every day just so he can look at her face, even if it means buying sandwiches he particularly doesn’t enjoy. He just needs to see her and feel the closeness. And in all of this, there are his relationships with his mother and grandmother (rather flimsy but nonetheless important to the narrative). And one fine day, his world crumbles and that’s for the reader to find out how.

The narrative is restrained in so many places and that  is what I guess works for the book. There is drama, some amount of humour, introspection and above all so many moments of kindness in the book that you cannot steer away from it. The two main characters are nameless and that doesn’t bother you at all. I didn’t even think about it till I reached the end of the book. Kawakami’s writing and the translation by Louise Heal Kawai doesn’t  make you want  for more. The writing and the tone of the book is just perfect.  If you’ve never read Japanese literature before, this is a great place to start. If you have, this is a great place to explore it more.