Category Archives: Novella

So Much for That Winter by Dorthe Nors

so-much-for-that-winter-by-dorthe-nors Title: So Much for That Winter
Author: Dorthe Nors
Translator: Misha Hoekstra
Publisher: Graywolf Press
ISBN: 978-1555977429
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I love it when authors break boundaries of traditional storytelling and present ideas in a new way. Dorthe Nors, a Danish writer does just that. She breaks the norms of telling a tale and how. Her new book (second one) titled “So Much for That Winter” consists of two novellas, of two women sifting through the fallout of respective breakups.

In the first novella, “Minna Needs a Rehearsal Space” – Nors writes the novella in the form of sparse headlines. Minna gets dumped on a text and the novella is about her being consoled by everyone around her – Minna’s mission though is to escape them all, especially her sister. I loved the way it was written. It is raw, brutal and funny – all at the same time. Nors could have very well written her own story. She could be Minna you know.

The second novella “Days” is about another breakup in the form of lists – of how a writer fills her time post break-up. Through both these novellas, I got a very uncanny sense of how nothing might be relevant in our endless age of tweets, updates and Instagram posts. Even heartbreak for that matter. I finished both these novellas in one go and honestly, I have not felt this disoriented in a long time after reading a book. Nors’ writing speaks to you and you can sense it crawling up your back and somehow you enjoy it. You are perhaps also taken in with all the reality but also somehow make peace with it.

Also, let me not forget that this experience would not have been possible without Misha Hoekstra’s wondrous translation of these novellas. “So Much for That Winter” deals in being human above everything else. These two novellas complement each other superbly and one cannot be read without the other. Nors has created a strewn about, lush, hurtful, real and beautiful love-letter of our times.

33 Revolutions by Canek Sánchez Guevara

33-revolutions-by-canek-sanchez-guevara Title: 33 Revolutions
Author: Canek Sánchez Guevara
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453480
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 128
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

A short book that has so much to say. I am enamored by books that say so little and end up showing you an entire world of things, ideas and more importantly make you think and a lot more once you are done reading them. “33 Revolutions” by Canek Sánchez Guevara is one such book.

The book might seem vague to begin with but it is anything but that. It is the story of a nameless protagonist living in contemporary Cuba, whose parents were the supporters of the Castro revolution. At the same time, he is black. The reason I mention this is because it plays a role in the story and one which cannot be ignored. The hero’s father died on being accused of embezzlement. His mother flees after her husband’s death and settles in Madrid.

He is separated from his wife and all he does besides his rote work is read. Books open him to a different world and make him see the reality he is surrounded by: the mundane, the ineffectual and the broken records of life – which the book captures beautifully. I think that has also to do with the fact that the author was the grandson of Che Guevara. The ideas of revolution that spring later can be seen lucidly as being inspired by him.

Our hero also has Kafkaesque dreams – nightmares and tethers on the edge mostly. In fact, at most times you as a reader cannot distinguish between reality and fiction of the novel and question the plot. This to me is fantastic as it challenges you – the reader, which doesn’t happen too often in books. The sense of disillusionment is real and how you actually see the protagonist being an informer and then refusing to do what he is told are the hallmarks of this novella.

This novella has actually made me want to read more about Cuba and its revolution of Castro – of how it all began and how it disappointed its supporters. “33 Revolutions” though is a fantastic stand-alone novella. Guevara puts his heart and soul in the writing – while reading it you might also feel exhausted and tired and that is the cornerstone of a good book – to make you feel what you read. Might I also add that the translation by Howard Curtis who also translated Santiago Gamboa’s book “Night Prayers” (published earlier this year and which I loved) is superb. If politics, life, and the disappointment of it all interests you, then this book sure is for you. If not, then too pick it up for the beauty of language.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill Title: Dept. of Speculation
Author: Jenny Offill
Publisher: Granta books
ISBN: 978-1847088734
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 192
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few books manage to evoke those emotions in you which you never thought a book would manage to bring out. It happens nonetheless and you fall in love with the read. There is more to it though. You know that this read will not be like the others. It has now become special.

“Dept. of Speculation” by Jenny Offill did just that to me. It is now one of those special reads and I know I will keep going back to it again and again and again. The format of the book feels weird to begin with but when you get into it and it grows on you, then it is something else.

It is the story of a wife and a husband and the breakdown of a marriage. It is the story of the woman’s previous lovers and the husband’s lover for whom he is leaving the wife. It is the story of their child and the life they have built together. What’s there not to love about this story? Is it clichéd? Perhaps it is.

A large part of any novella or novel is in the storytelling and this is what makes this book different. The book has no answers to any problems that a couple might face in their marriage. It is not meant to be that, but the snippets of truth of a relationship are brilliantly touched on.

“Dept. of Speculation” to me is one of those rare masterpieces in literature that need to be taken notice of. It is edgy, on the brink of things, unpredictable and something that you will perhaps relate to. There is wisdom, poetry, humour, heartbreak, and some fun facts as well to give you an overall perspective. All said and done, it will make you think and make you cry as well. Go. Read it.

The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry

untitled Title: The Library of Unrequited Love
Author: Sophie Divry
Translated from the French by Sian Reynolds
Publisher: MacLehose Press
ISBN: 978-1780870519
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 96
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4/5

An unnamed lone librarian (also old before her time and quite bitter) in France. A stranger in the library. The librarian works in the Geography Section in the basement and that is where this story begins. A hundred-page monologue on the life of a librarian, on the beauty of books, reading, the world, love, losses and her crush on a reader named Martin who visits the library very often.

This in short is the exquisitely told story of “The Library of Unrequited Love” by Sophie Divry. It is sparse and yet so magnificent in its scope and treatment. What I loved about the book is that it does not exclude the non-readers. In fact, it just gives them the space to grow in a library and discover themselves.

In fact the narrator might come across as angry sometimes, but she is also very warm and speaks of the years gone by, literature and the Dewey Decimal System with much fondness. Her ranting then doesn’t seem half-bad as you go along in the book. The protagonist is fierce and melancholy and tragic, all put together but what carries her on regardless is her love for books and the written word, which again reflects immensely in Divry’s writing.

There are no traces of sentimentality at all, though it could get that road quite easily. Divry leaves a lot to the reader’s imagination as we turn the pages, which works very well when it comes to a book as short as this. The translation from French by Sian Reynolds encapsulates the rhythm of the original beautifully, while also talking of French History and Culture which is quite accessible.

“The Library of Unrequited Love” is a book for everyone who loves books and reading. It is for everyone who has ever faced or gone through unrequited love. Get that cup of hot chocolate and get started with this one. Savour it. You will be done in less than two hours and yes, the taste will still linger.

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Academy Street by Mary Costello

Academy Street by Mary Costello Title: Academy Street
Author: Mary Costello
Publisher: Canongate Books
ISBN: 978-1782114185
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 180
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Very few times you come across a book that makes you feel and takes you beyond that, almost in another realm of consciousness. “Academy Street” by Mary Costello was one such book that did it for me this year (and the year has not even begun properly, so to say). If you are the sort of reader that only reads a book a month, then I will almost force you to read, “Academy Street”. It is a book which every reader (no matter what level of reader) should read at least once in his or her lifetime and I am not kidding about this.

“Academy Street” came to me at a time when I needed it the most. Yes, I do believe that books find you when they have to. Till then, no matter how hard you try, you cannot immerse yourself in the book. The book’s permission is needed. “Academy Street” is a novella of one woman and her journey from being a girl to an old woman and life as she sees it through those decades and years gone by. This is perhaps me simply putting it. The book is so much more and the layers to it are just phenomenal.

I had not heard of Costello before picking up this one but I am only too glad that I have now. Tess is not just a character. She is perhaps somewhere there in all of us in various forms or maybe just one. The book charts Tess’s story so to say from childhood till she is an old woman – all her happiness, her anxieties, her loves, her transitions, the loss of her mother (which is stated at the very beginning of the book) to her migration from Ireland to America, a new land with new possibilities, new hopes and new losses. How can one remain untouched by this novella? This was my only thought when I finished this gem of a book.

I am quite sure that other writers might have explored this theme in other books, but what makes this one different is of course the writing. Costello does not confuse the reader. The facts are laid out. The story-line is simple. The writing is simpler. The characters are not so many. So what makes me say that this book is astounding? It is all in the words and the sentences used by the writer.

At the core of the book, there is empathy, loneliness and sheer need to be accepted which intensified chapter after chapter. You get to know Tess like a close friend and there were times I just wanted to keep the book down, so there would be more reading time with it. The book is about her siblings, her friends, but above it all, it was to me, just a brief and simple testimony to life and the living. Tess is constantly finding herself. She is constantly seeking, trying to become that someone, and that will ring true for anyone who picks up this book. There is grace, devastation, eye for detail, elegance and above all empathy to Costello’s writing. I suggest you go and start reading this right now. Savour and cherish it, as books such as these are meant to.

Here are some of my favourite lines from the book. There are obviously more, but for now these will do.

In her life, ever, there were only a few people who had been a fit, with whom she had felt understood.

Ease her terrible ache for human touch, human love. The room was flooded with light and she was blinded, mesmerised.

And how all things change or end or disappear, and this would too, this day, this moment. She looked around. And you too, you will all disappear.

Oh honey, when it comes to the heart, it ain’t about men or women, but people.

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Academy Street