Book Talk: Praise for the novella

It’s too long for a short story and too short for a novel, but the novella is gaining in popularity

Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, now translated into English prose, is a mini-masterpiece in its own right, demonstrating the power of the novella. (Vintage Publishing book cover)

Peter Critchley

For The Morning Star

It’s too long for a short story and too short for a novel. But the novella, long regarded in the literary world as a form that does not quite make the grade, is gaining in popularity. It is ironically even now being touted as a renegade art form in North America, despite long being one of the most popular literary forms in Russia.

The Beach of Falesa (1892) by Robert Louis Stevenson is a classic novella that succeeds on more than one level. It is an adventure romance fused with realism that depicts a man’s struggle to maintain his decency in the face of uncivilized hostility. It is also a scathing critique of colonialism and economic imperialism that courageously attacks many of the 19th century’s strongest taboos, including economic exploitation and miscegenation.

John Wiltshire, the story’s narrator and protagonist, is a white trader on the island of Falsa in the South Seas. Case, a fellow trader, convinces him to marry the islander Uma. But when Wiltshire does so, the couple is ostracized. Over the course of the narrative, Wiltshire learns that Case has subdued the islanders by manipulating their supernatural fears. And when Wiltshire exposes Case as a fraud, he kills him in self-defence.

The Death of Ivan Ilych (1886) by Leo Tolstoy is a mini-masterpiece and one of the most moving novellas ever written. A vibrant new translation, by Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear, tells the tale of a judge who gradually begins to understand that his illness is fatal.

The tale is inspired by Tolstoy’s observation at his local train station of hundreds of shackled prisoners being sent to Siberia, many for petty crimes. He began to write the story when he learned the sentencing judge had died. The death of this man roused him to consider the judge’s final thoughts during his final days and the result is both chilling and beguiling.

The Baron in the Trees (1959) by Italo Calvino is a simply marvelous and somewhat bizarre novella about Cosimo, the eldest son of a noble family who, in a momentary pique of rebellion, vows to live his life in the trees — and does exactly that. And he discovers that life in the trees is not limiting at all. Branch ways connect him with orchards, villa gardens and dense forests and his domestic arrangements are comparable to the Swiss Family Robinson and Tarzan.

The unique perspective of the world he enjoys, and a series of remarkable adventures, including fighting with wolves and seducing women into the treetops, transforms his intellect and appreciation of nature and he eventually grows into a kind of hero.

Tales of Belkin (1830) by Aleksandr Pushkin contains the first prose the Russian author ever published. It begins with an introduction about five linked stories ostensibly collected by the scholar Ivan Belkin. The stories focus on military figures, the wealthy, and businessmen and beautifully paints a vivid portrait of nineteenth century Russian life.

It is one of the most beloved books in Russian literary history and symbolizes the popularity of the novella form in Russia. It is also the namesake for that country’s most prestigious annual literary prize, the Belkin Prize, awarded each year to the best novella as voted by a panel of judges.

These titles, and other novellas, are available through your Okanagan Regional Library www.orl.bc.ca.

Just Posted

Reel Reviews: A cure for anger

We say, “Purge it up, goofballs.”

Kelowna families honour the dead by releasing butterflies

The Nicholson matriarchs release 33 butterflies

Carr’s Landing Art Tour showcases local talent

14th annual tour in Lake Country July 28-29 and Aug. 4-5

The Okanagan Croatian Club all smiles after World Cup loss

They say winning second place brought Croatia to the world stage

East Shuswap Road wildfire’s fire line being controlled

Firefighters saved an eagle’s nest and eaglets while controlling fire lines

REPLAY: B.C.’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at replay-worthy highlights from across the province this week

Course veterans seize victory in Peach City Classic

The first place titles in this year’s triathlon belonged to returning competitors.

Vernon writers launch online workshop for teens, young adults

Storymakers’ Raise Your Voice workshop seeks to help women writers uncover and use voice

Former NHL goalie Ray Emery drowns in Lake Ontario

Police say the 35-year-old’s death appears to be a ‘case of misadventure’

Air quality statement warns of smoky air for Kamloops area

Environment ministry says area on north side of Thompson River may be affected by wildfire smoke

Pussy Riot claims on-field protest at World Cup final

Russian protest group claimed responsibility after four people ran onto field in police uniforms

Fans party on Montreal streets after French World Cup win

To city is home to nearly 57,000 French nationals

Your reviews: John Fogerty rocks the South Okanagan

Photos and reviews from fans in Penticton at John Fogerty’s concert in the SOEC

B.C. VIEWS: Making private health care illegal again

Adrian Dix battles to maintain Cuba-style medical monopoly

Most Read