Prequels, sequels and spin-offs

GaimanBookCoverV2bDoes the future of the novella lie in augmenting existing novels?

The novella is often hailed as the ideal middle ground between a novel and a short story, long enough for true immersion without being bloated or overdrawn. But they sometimes serve another purpose, as minature sequels or prequels to existing pieces of work – a trend which seems to be on the rise.

Video games have been doing this for years. Some, if not most modern gaming developers release DLC, or Downloadable Content, to augment existing gaming experiences. For story-based games, it could further explore what happened to the characters after the original game’s end – a brief respite until the inevitable full-length sequel – or for games more geared towards online multiplayer, additional playable areas and resources to utilise.

It would be absurd to suggest a total replication of this practice in the literary market – who wants ten additional chapters for £0.79 each? – but we can draw some parallels with a handful of contemporary authors.

British author Neil Gaiman has penned novella expansions to two of his full-length works – Monarch of the Glen, an epilogue to his 2001 novel American Gods, and The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, a tangential sequel to his graphic novel series The Sandman.

Game of Thrones author George R.R. Martin, too, has released multiple novella-length works in the same fictional universe as his A Song of Ice and Fire series – including three novellas set roughly 90 years before the events of the main series, as well as another, The Princess and the Queen, set even further back into the fictional past. A further novella, The Rogue Prince, is set for a June release.

These are but two tips of an enormous iceberg – albeit very prolific and high-profile tips. Many authors are using novellas as a form of literary DLC to expand the story of their novels, to explore backstory or to take a look at another character’s perspective – or the villain’s.

The merit in this practice probably lies in the chances for additional narrative exploration. In stories limited to a certain perspective, switching to another in a second, shorter book can add depth to the story in a way that would otherwise have been impossible. Backstories are often hard to explore without lengthy flashbacks that disrupt the flow of the narrative, and some loose ends can be tricky to tie up without making the final parts of a novel swollen with answers and explanations, in the vein of a Scooby Doo-style villain-unmasking exposition sequence. A novella can include those answers, as is the case with Gaiman’s American Gods spin-off, as well as providing a great secondary story that breathes new life into the novel from whence it came.

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The Lost Novellas of Chaplin and Kerouac

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What do Charlie Chaplin and Jack Kerouac have in common?

It sounds like the set-up to a truly awful joke, but in recent weeks both Chaplin and Kerouac have had previously-unreleased works of fiction made available – both of them novellas.  ‘Footlights’, by the former, and ‘The Haunted Life’, by the latter, were announced within weeks of each other.

Chaplin’s novella is linked to the film ‘Limelight’ which he wrote, directed and starred in – released in 1952 to major controversy and re-released to more appreciative audiences in 1972. ‘Footlights’ serves as a foundation, or a prequel of sorts, to the story, wherein a once-famous clown (now an alcoholic) saves a ballet dancer from committing suicide. It adds further depth to the film, fleshing out the protagonist’s motivations and mirroring them to that of Chaplin himself – nostalgic and mournful at the decline of silent cinema and his own fame.

Kerouac_by_Palumbo

Kerouac’s lost tale, ‘The Haunted Life’, is also partially autobiographical. Lost in 1944 (reputedly in the back of a New York taxicab) and popping up fifty-eight years later at an auction at Sotheby’s, it is now being published for the first time. It tells the story of three young residents of Kerouac’s hometown, Lowell, Massachusetts, hoping for ‘one last idle summer’ before real life sets in. Some critics have labelled it as ‘stagey’ and ‘a lost Kerouac that should have stayed lost’ – but it’s worth bearing in mind that Kerouac wrote this when he was 22, a full thirteen years before ‘On The Road’ would make it to print.

You can read an extract from Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Footlights’ here, and an extract from Jack Kerouac’s ‘The Haunted Life’ here. 

Top 10 Tips for Writing Novellas

Joseph Heller's plan for Catch-22.

Joseph Heller’s plan for Catch-22. This was an enormous novel, though – a novella plan might be more concise.

Plan, plan, plan

Many writers think that because of their length, novellas are something they can just sit down and write. This is not the case. As with the novella’s longer cousin, the novel, it needs to be planned thoroughly beforehand.. What’s the point of writing ten thousand words only to realise the story has reached its conclusion? Forward planning using any stimulus such as the snowflake method or a simple brainstorm can make the difference between a novella and another short story.

Describe your novella in one sentence

Novellas have simple plots and minimal characters. If it is not possible to describe this in a single sentence, the idea will likely become a full-blown novel when written. The key aspects of a novella are its simple plot and few central characters.  If the plot can’t be described in a sentence, the idea may be suited more for a novel than a novella.

 Start with conflict

Creating a conflict in the first few pages of a novella will draw in the reader and encourage them to continue reading. This could be anything from a battle of life and death or something going missing. Create a conflict that the character must face early on and the reader will be enticed to find out how this conflict is resolved, if at all.

Consider writing in the first person

It’s important to create an instant connection between the main character in the novella and the reader. This will further encourage the reader to carry on reading as they develop a working relationship with the hero or heroine – this is much easier to accomplish through first person point of view than third.

Minimise number of characters and settings

Incorporating a large number of characters would not allow for a lot of character development in the smaller number of words a novella demands. Using a few key characters allows for full personalities to be made. The same can be said for settings as there are not enough words to write long, detailed descriptions of settings. Simple settings must be used to greater effect within a novella.

Avoid too many (or any) subplots

Novellas tend to circulate around one key plot and very rarely have more than one subplot. There is not enough time to wrap up a large number of smaller stories; one event, one problem, must be the  centre of the novella’s attention.

Increase the pace

In a novel, the writer has time to drag out events, describe smaller detail and focus on less important sections of the narrative. This is not possible in a novella. To keep the word count small and the reader engaged, the pace must be quick. Long, drawn out scenes will push the novella towards novel status.

Keep it fluid

Due to their length, novels can afford to have stops and starts in the forms of Parts, Acts, or Chapters, with time gaps, shifts in perspective or rises and falls in dramatic tension. Due to their length, novellas can’t afford to do this – so keeping one strong central story thread, and keeping it fluid, is vital.

Revise, revise, revise

No one can be expected to throw out  20,000 to 40,000 words of an excellent novella, especially if the writer  hasn’t published anything beforehand. The likelihood is that there will be a surplus of useless description and meaningless characters. Revision will allow for redundant elements to be cut out, leaving a more concise and streamlined novella.

Relax and have fun!

Writing  doesn’t have to be stressful. It is often something that many choose to do for pleasure. A novella is much shorter than a novel, so it requires a lot less work, and usually a lot less revision too. Often it can be a great starting point for writers experimenting with the longer forms of fiction.

Stephen King on Novellas

downloadStephen King has, to date, published a jaw-dropping amount of novels and short stories; fifty-six of the former and nearly a dozen collections of the latter. Just let that sink in for a minute. Fifty-six novels. But in the midst of these, King has only published a small handful of novellas, the literary middle ground between his huge doorstops like The Stand and five-minute tales like 1408 and Children of the Corn. In the Afterword to his novella anthology Different Seasons, he explains why:

“I had gotten to a place where people were saying King could publish his laundry list if he wanted to… but I couldn’t publish these tales because they were too long to be short and too short to be really long. If you see what I mean.”

He describes the difficulty in trying to sell novellas to publishers, with only a few American magazines still accepting them, and then, typically, only literary novellas. King has no illusions about his writing, calling it “plain fiction for plain folks, the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and a large fries from McDonald’s”. But it illustrates a larger point. If one of the world’s best-selling writers had trouble finding a home for four of (in this writer’s opinion) the best stories he’s ever written, purely due to their length, what hope do the rest of us have?

The answer may lie in e-publishing. King eventually got lucky when his new editor accepted his proposal to tie four of his novellas together in a single collection, the success of this fuelling a few more novella collections over the course of his career. In recent years, however, following the rise of Kindles and e-books, King’s shorter fiction has taken a notably digital turn.

In 2000, King’s novella Riding the Bullet was released as the world’s very first mass-marketed electronic book. 400,000 copies were downloaded in the first 24 hours, crashing the hosting server multiple times. The novella was published in a collection (Everything’s Eventual) two years later, but some speculate it may have been a major flagship in the rise of e-books. Later that year, King released a full-length digital novel, The Plant.

2009 saw King release Ur to coincide with the release of the second generation of Amazon’s Kindle. Exclusively available through Amazon’s Kindle store, the story revolves around a writer’s purchase of an e-reader that can access books written in parallel universes – for example, four novels Hemingway wrote in a universe where he lived for three more years. Some aspects of the novella have led critics to label it as an ‘infomercial’ for the Kindle – something King denies. “I decided I would like to write a story for the Kindle, but only if I could do one about the Kindle,” he said. “Gadgets fascinate me, particularly if I can think of a way they might get weird. I had previously written about homicidal cars, sinister computers, and brain-destroying mobile phones; at the time the Amazon request came in, I’d been playing with an idea.”

Since Ur, King has published five e-books, four of them novellas. It’s no coincidence that his fiction of a certain length lends itself to being released in this way, considering the risks involved in marketing and selling physical copies of much smaller books in a world where ‘more is more’ is often the case.

In the aforementioned Afterword to Different Seasons, King referred to novellas as “an anarchy-ridden literary banana republic”. If anything, though, he has proved that there’s still some life in the form yet – life that will no doubt continue to flourish as e-readers continue to dominate the literary market.

 

To Cut a Long Story Short

kindle-vs-booksAre Novellas The Ideal Read in a Digital Era?

originally published in the Times Higher Education Supplement

“I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction. It is the beautiful daughter of a rambling, bloated ill-shaven giant (but a giant who’s a genius on his best days).” If you’re willing to go along with Ian McEwan’s observation in his 2012 New Yorker piece, and I am, recent examples of bloated novels might include A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven (nearly 170,000 words), Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (close to 200,000 words) and Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life (over 250,000 words). Sure, there have always been longer novels around Moby Dick (210,000 words), War and Peace (over 500,000) – but thirty-odd years ago, many of the novels I read were short: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie (39,000 words), Slaughterhouse Five (49,000), Billy Liar (54,000).

The novel’s drift towards obesity is partly cultural: in this period, many aspects of life have become inflated. A Starbucks cappuccino comes in a super-sized mug, whereas the Italian prototype is served in a standard cup. Films were mostly shorter in the last century: Raging Bull comes in at 100 minutes, whereas Scorcese’s most recent, The Wolf of Wall Street is 180. In this context, it’s tempting to think of Mark Twain apologising for the length of a letter and explaining that had he had more time he would have written a shorter one.

The opposite of the often phone-directory heft of the contemporary novel might be the short story, which benefits from brevity and distillation. From Chekhov to Alice Munro, many classic short stories are less than 10,000 words. A short story on its own can be a satisfying read, but a single-author collection or an anthology? Maybe less so; a book of short stories can feel episodic. One of the attractions of the novel, though, is that it’s immersive and usually takes days not hours to read. Part of its appeal is that what you read at any given sitting is a continuation of what has gone before and a preparation for what lies ahead. The novel depends for its effect on being extended and cohesive. Thoughts like these may have prompted me to suspect that the novella might have the virtues of both novel and short story without the shortcomings of either.

Just what a novella is has been hotly debated, with some of the heat focusing on length. The Great Gatsby, at 55,000 words, is considered too long to be one and, at 15,000 words, Joyce’s “The Dead” too short. Between these boundaries, The Turn of the Screw (42,000 words), Animal Farm and Ethan Frome (both 30,000) would appear to be novellas – at least in regard to length.

I recently suggested to Nicholas Royle, Salt Publishing’s fiction editor, that Alison Moore’s Booker shortlisted The Lighthouse (which he had sourced and edited) might be a novella. He strongly disagreed. “It is not, in my view, a matter of word count. The Lighthouse is not a novella. It is a novel. It’s a short novel. A novella, I was taught by my German lecturers at university, is a novella because it has a tighter focus. It’s about one thing and probably only really about one character. It may have unity of place, too.”

Richard Ford, in his introduction to The Granta Book of The American Long Story, examines just such theorisation of the form and suggests that the difference between short story and novella is that while the story involves restriction and intensity the novella may have intense effects but wider implications. He fails to find much consensus on what a novella is, though, and decides to take straw poll of other American writers. The one aspect of the novella on which his peers agreed was that it would be between 60 and 120 pages long. This tallies with what Stephen King writes in the introduction to Different Seasons, his collection of four novellas (which contains “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption” the source of the film). He too thinks that there isn’t a hard and fast definition. “But when a writer approaches the 20,000-word mark, he knows he’s edging out of the country of the short story; likewise when he passes the 40,000-word mark, he’s edging into the country of the novel.”

I’d like to be able to say that when we were setting the upper and lower word count for the new MMU Novella Award we consulted Ford and King – but we didn’t; I came across their thoughts on the form later. What we did do was to look at the length of a selection of books that were generally agreed to be novellas and hummed and hah-ed a bit and made our decision.

However it may be defined, the novella is allegedly a form that publishers of fiction don’t like: too long for magazines, too short to be passed off as a novel. Ian McEwan opened that New Yorker feature with an overview of the kind of resistance there is to the form: “Perhaps you don’t have the necessary creative juice. Isn’t the print rather large, aren’t the lines too widely spaced?” This was precisely the tenor of the media reception when Zadie Smith’s 80-page, £7.99 The Embassy of Cambodia was published last year. For that kind of money, the pundits argued, most book buyers wanted a good many more pages. But is a novella really a difficult product to market? Deborah Levy’s novella Swimming Home was Booker-shortlisted in 2012.  Julian Barnes’ The Sense of an Ending actually won the award the year before and sold accordingly – despite the 163 small pages with ample white space. Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist – not far over the 40,000-word mark – has sold over a million copies around the world and his latest, How to Get Filthy Rich In Rising Asia, which is almost exactly the same length, is racking up very healthy sales, too.

While getting our award off the ground, my thinking was that the short form was ideally suited to the time-poor, on-the-move contemporary reader using a range of mobile devices. We live (in my imagination at least) in a society where commuters are heads-down in their e-reader, tablet or smartphone.

As it turns out, plenty of data bears this out. Last month, The Guardian reported that in Britain and, even more so, abroad, e-books are booming. In 2012, digital fiction sales were 188% up on 2011. YOUGOV predicted that after the 2013 Christmas season there would be 20 million tablets in the UK. Specifically because of this increase in tablet ownership, the research and consulting service Futuresource’s 2014 forecast is for 36 per cent growth in the e-book market. And, surprisingly, in a report last year the mobile app researcher Flurry found that almost 90% of e-book reading on mobile devices is done on smartphone while, according to Mobile Marketing magazine, 72% of the UK population now own a smartphone.

E-reading has become a phenomenon. Whether or not this means that readers in a hurry are favouring shorter works of fiction is impossible to say, but the novelist Jeff Noon, who considers his most recent work Channel SK1N to be a novella, contends that it was published exclusively in e-book form to help smooth over any uncertainty that people might have had about its length. “Readers aren’t as aware of page count in the electronic realm as they are in a paper book,” he argues. Maybe so.

In the end, perhaps it doesn’t matter whether readers are actually stampeding towards novellas any more than it matters that agreement on the definition or length is elusive. It’s simply a very attractive form. McEwan sees the novel as too capacious, too unruly to achieve perfection, but he can, he says, conceive of the perfect novella. My hope is that the MMU Novella Award uncovers writers who feel the same way.

r-graham

Robert Graham is Creative Writing Programme Leader at MMU’s Cheshire Faculty and Director of the MMU Novella Award.  www.mmunovellaaward.org.uk

Featured Novella: Beside The Sea

by Dan Powell 

The singular focus ofbeside-the-sea-by-veronique-olmi the novella makes it an ideal form for intense and claustrophobic narratives. Such stories risk becoming endurance tests for the reader if extended into the bulk of the novel but sit well within the shorter form. However uncomfortable the subject matter of a novella, however oppressive the mood, the reader can follow challenging characters and explore difficult issues in the comparative safety of their shorter word count. Véronique Olmi’s tragic tale of a single-mother adrift in her depression is one such novella.

Beside the Sea is narrated by a nameless mother who, in the middle of the night, takes her two boys, Stan and Kevin, on ‘holiday’ to a rain swept coastal town besieged by a cold grey sea. The story follows her desperate, often pathetic attempts to spend the last of her money giving the boys a fun seaside visit. It is only late in the novella that we realise the real reason she has brought them too this place, yet the positivity of the novella’s title is crushed under the weight of the mother’s perspective right from the austere and taut first sentence: ‘We took the bus, the last of the evening, so no one would see us.’

Throughout the novella the narrator is anxious to avoid being noticed by others. ‘Everyone is waiting for you put a foot wrong, for you to fall,’she says, tortured by her perception of the judgemental eyes that surround her. Her response is to ‘act like I knew what I was doing. What matters is to look like you know,’ but it would be clear from her actions, even if we did not have the further insight into her thoughts that the narrative voice provides, that she is unravelling. At first we think perhaps her view of the world as uniformly hostile, fuelled by her depression and failing to take her pills, is in error. Early in the novella the reader does not feel included when she says ‘We’re all walking on the edge of a precipice.’

We watch her actions with the same wary eye as her eldest boy, Stan, who gives her ‘suspicious looks like when I just sit in the kitchen and he watches me, thinking I don’t know he’s there.’ We soon learn that it is Stan who cares for the younger Kevin when their mother sleeps away Sundays or is unable to get either of the boys ready for school. It is Stan who quickly becomes the recipient of the reader’s sympathy as we discover the many ways he parents his little brother and the narrator’s description of Stan as hostile and suspicious only serves to further fuel the reader’s doubting of the mother’s ability to judge the motives of those around her. It is clear, to the reader at least, that Stan is simply looking out for his mother as best as a ten year old can.

Once the trio leave the bleak, cramped quarters of their hotel room and venture out, first to a rainswept beach and steel grey sea, and then to a cafe where a spiteful owner and drunken clientele belittle not only the narrator but Stan as he counts out piles of pennies to pay for their drinks, we start to realise that the mother’s wariness of the world is justified. When the landlord scatters the boy’s carefully counted coins across the table and floor we are suddenly more prepared to accept the narrator’s view. Suddenly she has our sympathy. As they move to the fair and the boys finally grasp a moment of pleasure on the dodgems it seems things might just be about to improve, but instead of witnessing that childish moment of joy, the narrator is swept into the spiralling mental turmoil of her thoughts and is only dimly aware of the boys returning for more money before disappearing back into the bustle of the fair. At the end of the evening, the money all spent and five year old Kevin sick from too many treats, it is Stan who must bring his mother back to the world, shouting at her to take them back through the perpetual drenching rain to the hotel and the novella’s crushing climax. Too late we become horribly aware of the why she has brought the boys here.

Beside the Sea is a layered and precise narrative. The warning signs for what happens are there to be seen, right from the beginning, though they might be missed first time around, just as the signs can be missed in such tragedies when they take place in the real world. The closing moments leave the reader wishing that the narrator had been lying when she said ‘it’s not true that I’m paralysed by my anxieties.’ In truth, she is all too able to act upon them, with tragic consequences. Beside the Sea is an uncomfortable, disturbing and important work that challenges readers’ sympathies. Midway through the novella the narrator says ‘unhappiness is not a pretty sight.’ Beside the Sea certainly does not make for easy reading, is claustrophobic and at times ugly, but, as one reviewer pointed out, ‘It should be read.’ If real art has the capacity to make us nervous, then I can think of no greater novella than this one.

 

Dan Powell is a prize winning author whose short fiction has appeared across the internet, on mobile devices, and in print, most notably in the pages of Carve, Paraxis, Fleeting and The Best British Short Stories 2012. His debut collection of short fiction, Looking Out Of Broken Windows, was shortlisted for the Scott Prize in 2013 and is published by Salt. He procrastinates at danpowellfiction.com and on Twitter as @danpowfiction.

(Possibly) The Top 10 Novellas of All Time (For Now)

  1. Animal Farm – George Orwell10 Reads for the New year

Always the top of any list concerning novellas, and one of the most talked about novellas ever published, Animal Farm is an allegorical and dystopian novel, originally published in 1945.

Set on the fictitious Manor Farm, an old pig named Major tells the other animals of a dream that he had about a perfect world where all animals live in harmony, without humans. Three younger pigs, Snowball, Napoleon and Squealer, take up his mantle when he dies, leading the farm animals to drive out the human farmer. Things take a turn for the worst, though, when the animals’ behaviour begins to mirror that of their former owners…

 

2.    Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

Still used in schools to this day as an academic novella, Of Mice and Men is set during the Great Depression of 1929 – 1940s and was published in 1937.

Two men, Lennie and George, travel across America in search of work. Lennie is severely handicapped but George, his best friend, looks after him and prevents him from getting into too much trouble. They settle down on a farm and try to live the American Dream, but not all goes according to plan.

 

 3.    Metamorphosis – Franz Kafka

Cited as one of the seminal works of fiction of the twentieth century, Metamorphosis is a philosophical novella that is studied in colleges and universities across the Western world. It was originally published in 1915.

This strange novella starts with Gregor Samsa waking up one morning to find he has transformed into a giant beetle. When he is seen by his family, he is attacked and shunned. Only his sister shows him any kindness, feeding him scraps of garbage, and his family begins to suffer as he was the sole bread winner and can no longer go to work. Whether you see Gregor’s transformation as literal or metaphorical, Metamorphosis is still an incredibly powerful read.

 

4.    A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

One of Charles Dickens’ most celebrated works of fiction, A Christmas Carol has been adapted a great many times into film including a Muppet’s Christmas Carol and Disney’s A Christmas Carol. It was originally published in 1843.

The novella opens on Christmas Eve with Ebenezer Scrooge, a nasty old man who hates Christmas and sends everyone away with a hearty ‘Bah, Humbug!’, counting money and refusing to allow his workers to light a fire, due to the price of coal. He goes home and is visited by the spirit of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, who tells him he must change his ways or he will suffer in the afterlife. He also tells of three ghosts that will appear later that nightthe ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Not to be confused with The Muppet Christmas Carol.

 

5.    The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

The original title of the novella written by Stevenson; in recent years it has been shorted to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, or simply Jekyll and Hyde. It was published in 1886.

Set during the Victorian era, a scientist called Dr. Jekyll finds a way to manipulate his own psyche. By using a potion, he splits himself into two separate entities inside one body. He calls this new entity, devoid of a conscience, Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll enjoys turning into this monstrous, disfigured brute until Mr. Hyde kills another member of the public…

 

6.    A Clockwork Orange – Antony Burgess

A dystopian novella that has, in recent years, been reworked into a stage play and a film, it was originally banned across America for its graphic and disturbing content, and the moral questions is raises. It was originally published in 1962.

In Burgess’ future world, youths are extremely ‘ultra-violent’ and the general populace do not bat an eye. The novella follows fifteen year old antihero Alex, the leader of a gang, and is written in Nadsat, the slang dialect invented by Burgess for his dystopian vision.

 

7.    Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote

The main character of this novella, Holly Golightly, is one of Capote’s best-known creations and an American cultural icon. It was published in 1958.

The story is narrated by a writer who moves into an apartment near Holly’s, and chronicles their growing relationship as the narrator learns more and more about her past.

 

8.    Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes.

A science fiction ‘short story’ (and subsequent novella) that was originally published in 1959.

The entire story is told through the ‘progress reports’ of Charlie Gordon, a mentally retarded man who is chosen for an experiment after being put forward by his teacher, Alice. The experiment has been done before, on a mouse called Algernon. This mouse has extremely enhanced mental capabilities, and when Charlie undergoes the same treatment, he too becomes incredibly intelligent.

 

9.    The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway

The last major work of fiction to be produced by Hemingway and published in his lifetime, it was released in 1952.

An old man named Santiago goes fishing every day for eighty four days without catching anything. His apprentice, Manolin, is taken away from him by his parents because of his unlucky streak. On the eighty fifth day, he goes out further than before and hooks a huge marlin. It drags him out to sea for two days and two nights, the novella telling the story of Santiago’s struggle with the fish.

 

10.  The Stranger – Albert Camus

The Stranger, also known in some translations as The Outsider, appears in many listings for top novellas. It was originally published in 1942.

It follows Meursault, the narrator, as he commits a senseless and irrational murder, and the trial that follows. Philosophically and ethically, it raises more questions than you can shake a stick at, but there’s also an incredibly well-crafted story behind the nods to existentialism