Category Archives: Novella

Read 38 of 2022. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones

Title: Mapping the Interior
Author: Stephen Graham Jones
Publisher: Tordotcom
ISBN: 978-0765395108
Genre: Novella, Fantasy
Pages: 112
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

For a novella, Jones sure knows how to pack it all in. There is family dysfunctionality (well, if you read it that way which I sure did), there is loneliness, the concept of home, the Native American culture, the way we are raised, some horror as well (quite a lot actually), and the superstitions that surround us.

Mapping the Interior is a story of the protagonist, a sleepwalker, who at fifteen years of age sees the silhouette of his dead father (or at least he thinks it is his father) in the house where he, his mother, and younger brother who suffers from seizures live. Nothing is clear about the father’s death who died mysteriously before the family left the reservation.

In all of this, the boy wants to know more. So, he decides to understand where he came from, where his family came from – their culture and roots but also about the house and its hidden corners and passages, and to comprehend the haunting (if that’s what it is).

Stephen Graham Jones’ writing is beyond superlative. The way he blends coming of age with a supernatural story, and also about what it means to be clueless about identity is staggering, and that too with such brevity. It is so short that it can be devoured in a day, and that was also one of my issues with it – I wish it were longer because it is so good. At the same time, I am also conflicted in thinking that the length is just right for the story Jones wanted to tell. I cannot begin with explore his other books and read them all, one after the other.

Read 15 of 2021. City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts by Annie Zaidi

City of Incident by Annie ZaidiTitle: City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts
Author: Annie Zaidi
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9390652129
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Sometimes an author doesn’t have to say too much to make points felt, or to express emotions. I have always been taken in by the concept of vignettes in literature – of how some writers are capable of writing them to the point of distinction – each appearing as an entire universe in its own structure and some who somehow fail to achieve that and get caught in detail.

Annie Zaidi’s new offering “City of Incident: A Novel in Twelve Parts” is a great example of what to do when writing slice-of-life fiction. To be minimal – to only use words that matter and not more than what are needed – to the point of making the reader feel the claustrophobia, more so when a city such as Bombay is being described from various vantage points.

Zaidi captures people from various walks of life – people we see and sometimes fail to as we lead our lives. She speaks of conditions and circumstances quite nonchalantly – as though they don’t mean anything but don’t be fooled by the lightness – because there is so much to uncover at the end of it.

Situations are primary – highlighting them isn’t the motive of this book, I think. It is all about living and what it takes to live in a metropolis. Zaidi’s writing feels like I am in a bubble and there is no way out. From railway platforms to overcrowded trains, to homes that provide no respite, and traffic signals that make you see events you don’t want to. She documents all of it, being almost a chronicler of disappointed lives, mercurial beings, and tortured souls.

City of Incident feels like all those lives have merged together in one small book. Each life appears different and unique, only for Zaidi to make us by the end of it, feel like they all are universal – same and without distinction. City of Incident makes you stop in your tracks and observe people around you closely and with more introspection. I highly recommend this read.

Read 14 of 2022. Blue by Emmelie Prophète. Translated from the French by Tina Kover

Blue by Emmelie Prophète

Title: Blue
Author: Emmelie Prophète
Translated from the French by Tina Kover Publisher: Amazon Crossing
ISBN: 978-1542031295
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 126
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Blue isn’t an easy novel to read. It is short and requires work from the reader, in the sense to keep pace with what’s going on. Time is fluid and it travels without warning. There is a lot of back and forth – given it is a stream of consciousness novel, and that to me is one of its major selling points.

Blue is a lyrical memoir of Haiti. It is a story of the narrator and her life there before she moved. It is a story of her mother and two aunts and all of this is replayed as the narrator sits at an airport, waiting for a flight from Miami back to her native island.

Emmelie Prophète writes about Port-au-Prince through the daily lives of its inhabitants, the ones that aren’t visible sometimes – resisting and inviting voyeurism. We don’t get to see the city as much through its blueprint as much as we do through the narrator – in a minimal space of that of an airport. The comparisons are made – from where the narrator is to what has been left behind, and sometimes event similarities. That of women being subdued, of people making sense of their identities as they go along, and how Haitians are portrayed in North American media, and how it impacts them as people.

There is so much to unpack in this novel. From the outside world to the inside sanctum of thoughts and prayers, Prophète reveals the narrator’s emotions and thoughts in relation to incidents of the past and how it all ties up to the present.

Blue also conveys a sense of solitude – the airport, the island, the inner workings of the mind, the stream of consciousness, and more than anything – the distances between places gives the reader a strong feeling of isolation and contemplation.

The writing is fluid. The translation is reflective of it, on every page. Kover makes it a point to show most of the time and not tell through the translation. It makes you want more, and imagine the most. Sometimes it is tough to keep up with the plot – so much so that it seems like there is no linear plot and yet you know it is the story of a place, of home that is synonymous with the colour Blue, the one that is about forgotten memories, painful ones, that surface once in a while, as you wait to be transported.

Read 224 of 2021. Trust by Domenico Starnone . Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri.

Trust by Domenico Starnone

Title: Trust
Author: Domenico Starnone Translated from the Italian by Jhumpa Lahiri
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 9781609457037
Genre: Literary Fiction, Novella
Pages: 144
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Two people meet. They fall in love. Their affair is passionate and almost magical. They push each other’s buttons and finally make a pact about telling their darkest secrets to each other – with the promise of trust, thinking that they will forever be with each other. Till the young teacher Pietro and his young student Teresa aren’t together. Till they both find other people to love and the secrets shared continues to haunt them, and both stop trusting each other.

Starnone’s writing is simple. The emotions aren’t. They are messy and all over the place. The first part is told by Pietro and somehow you can see where the power lies in this relationship. But of course, it is quite obvious. The power shift only because Teresa knows what she does and the fact that he fears what might happen if the world knows of it.

Starnone’s writing is balanced and mostly to the point. He is aware of what his characters do, the way they feel, the dilemmas they are caught in, and with the understanding of the kind of control they have, they navigate their lives in the world. The second part is told by Pietro’s daughter Emma, and with this change of narrative, the reader doubts what was known before. How characters betray each other, and do they even know themselves is then the crux.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s translation is perfect. What is interesting is how she perceives the writing – given that the perspective is largely male and how she brings Teresa to the fore with her immaculate translation.

Yes there are moral blind spots in the book and yes you cannot take sides as you read it, or keep shifting sides if that happens, but this is what makes Trust such an interesting read.

The House of Paper by Carlos María Domínguez. Translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor

The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez

Title: The House of Paper
Author: Carlos María Domínguez Translated from the Spanish by: Nick Caistor
Illustrations by: Peter Sís
ISBN: 978-0151011476
Publisher: Harcourt
Genre: Novella, Literary Fiction
Pages: 103
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Books about books have always fascinated me. There is something so relatable about them that it breaks my heart and also repairs it at the same time. They are love letters to books – almost love stories between books and collectors – I am sure most will agree with me when it comes to this. A reader and his or her books can never be apart.

“The House of Paper” is one of those books you just cannot get enough of. It is a short book – a novella of 106 pages or so but every page and every sentence and every word gleams in it. This one was a reread for me and I had actually forgotten how much I loved this book, till I read it now. The story is of a Cambridge professor who is killed by a car while reading Dickinson (or so it is assumed). A book is sent to her – a dirty, dusty copy of Conrad’s “The Shadow-Line”. A colleague of hers travels to Uruguay, determined to know the connection between these two people and instead ends up hearing a very strange story – of the man Carlos Brauer and how he has built himself a house from books by the sea. The rest is for you to read and find out – the why, what and the how that is.

“The House of Paper” is magic realism and a lot more than just that in my opinion. Books and reading form such a core of this read that you wished it were longer and that it would not end at all. The book raises questions of mad bibliophiles and the length they will go to for their love of books. At the same time, it doesn’t make it too philosophical or dreary. This book is perfect to the ones obsessed with the written word and for one I cannot stop recommending it. I must also add here that the translation by Nick Caistor is tongue in-cheek, lively and not to forget the beautiful illustrations by Peter Sís. My copy by the way is from The New York Public Library and I was delighted that it came to me in India from there. Only book-lovers will understand this. Also this book. So read it. Please.