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

Kelowna Art Gallery hosts new exhibition, Poetics of Space

The exhibition can be viewed from Feb. 2 until May 5

Kelowna RCMP use spike belt to apprehend alleged car thieves

Both suspects were expected in court Thursday morning

Kelowna RCMP ask for assistance to identify suspects

The break and enter resulted in a firearm being stolen

TELUS works with YMCA for Okanagan youth

A four week employment program will assist at-risk youth

First recreational cannabis store in Okanagan has quiet opening near Lake Country

Indigenous Bloom has opened on Okanagan Indian Band land

B.C. opioid crisis to get same world-renowned treatment approach as HIV/AIDS

A program that focuses on treatment as prevention will roll out Jan. 17

Olympian snowboarder Max Parrot diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Each year in Canada, approximately 900 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma

Hergott: Memories of crashes fade

Lawyer Paul Hergott writes about the importance of journaling after a crash

‘Prince of Pot’ Marc Emery accused of sexual assault, harassment

Emery denied the allegations, but a Toronto woman says she is not the only one speaking out

Vancouver Island photographer makes National Geographic’s 2018 elite

Rare double honour for Marston from the 36 best Your Shots out of nearly 19,000 photos

Ex-Liberal candidate in Burnaby, B.C., says volunteer wrote controversial post

Karen Wang dropped out following online post singling out NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh’s ethnicity

Asteroids are smacking Earth twice as often as before

The team counted 29 craters that were no older than 290 million years

Canada’s arrest of Huawei exec an act of ‘backstabbing,’ Chinese ambassador says

China has called Canada’s arrest of Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou ‘politically motivated’

Remorse high for Vernon man sentenced for car surfing death

Driver of car that killed friend who was car surfing gets nine months in jail

Most Read