The best novella writers are Eliot, Márquez, Capote, Hemingway, Steinbeck, and Conrad. Novellas, longer than a short story but shorter than a novel, offer writers the opportunity to deeply affect a reader in a shorter space of time – perfect for attention spans which shrink every year!
The Lifted Veil by George Eliot has got to be one of the most fascinating examples of Victorian horror fiction. Penned by Eliot in 1859, it raised many an eyebrow due to its oftentimes disturbing subject matter and depictions.
It’s the only time Eliot strayed into the genre of science fiction: the work also contains influences from the fields of phrenology, mesmerism, and physiology.
It recounts a protagonist who feels he can see into the future: when he sets a few tests for himself, it turns out he’s really on to something. He uses this ability to understand the motivations and actions of those around him – until he meets a woman whose mind he cannot divine!
Gabriel García Márquez
Márquez regarded his novella No One Writes to the Colonel as his favorite work. The novella tells of a retired Columbian general who still hopes to be granted the pension he was promised fifteen years earlier, after he fought in the Thousand Days War.
Atypically for Márquez, this work only features one instance of magical realism.
The main characters in the novel aren’t named – do you have an opinion as to why this might be?
Perhaps to enhance the feeling of a lack of personhood pervasive during the years of La Violencia in Colombia, when people lived under martial law.
The book behind the movie behind the musical. This absolute classic tells the tale of Holly Golightly, a young New York café society woman, who allows herself to be taken to dinner / out for the evening by men in exchange for gifts.
Capote clarified that she is not a prostitute, but rather closer to a Japanese geisha.
In the end Golightly gets mixed up with some troubled characters, before emigrating in their company – but not before setting her nameless cat free!
Golightly is one of Capote’s most cherished creations, and totally iconic.
The Old Man and The Sea. What can one say?
Hemingway famously wrote that this novella contains everything that he ever learned about writing fiction. He received the Nobel Prize shortly after releasing it, so the committee clearly thought he was on to something.
Once read, it is never forgotten.
The tale of an elderly Cuban man who still goes out to sea to fish for marlin.
It’s a tragic little story, about aging, masculinity, love, and the whole g’dam nature of human existence.
Of Mice and Men is another towering work of literature, which contributed significantly to Nobel Prize winning writer John Steinbeck’s stature.
As above, this is a tragically inflected tale, this time about a couple of migrant farm workers seeking employment in depression era California.
George looks after his friend Lennie, a huge man of great strength who needs daily help with things.
After they land a temporary job, affaris go from bad to worse when Lennie’s impulses get the better of him, and the boss’s son takes a keen dislike to the big man’s stature.
The itinerant men dream of owning a little patch of land of their own. Sigh.
Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is widely regarded as one of the finest, if not the finest, novellas in the English language: it is the inspiration for the film Apocalypse Now.
Charles Marlow recounts his journey as a ship’s captain which takes him to the African interior. He is hired by a Belgian company to investigate what has happened to an ivory trader by the name of Kurtz, who has ‘gone native.’
Widely interpreted as an anti-colonial text, the novella examines the true nature of spiritual darkness, drawing attention to the barbarity of the Europeans in Africa.
A haunting classic.
So there you have it: Conrad, Hemingway, Eliot, Capote, Márquez, and Steinbeck are amongst the greatest writers of novellas of all time. If you start your reading journey with these writers, you are sure to figure out what appeals to you the most in novellas, and then you can compile a list of your own!