Stephanie Campisi is a freelance writer and book reviewer from Melbourne, Australia. She runs the book review website Read in a Single Sitting.
Running the website Read in a Single Sitting means that plenty of short reads come my way, but surprisingly very few of them novellas or novelettes. That said, I've read (or listened to) several this year that have stood out in my mind.
Queer Fish in God's Waiting Room by Lee Henshaw
Both having and being an unlikely title, this crazed, dadaist road trip romp was released last year by small press outfit Fruit Tree Press. A slightly crazed, dadaist road-trip romp, it has notes of the unabashed madness of William S Burroughs and the gloriously self-indulgent work of Martin Clark.The novella follows a trio of pommy lads–narrator Liam, his younger brother “Brother James”, and their mutual comrade Ed Lover–as they trek about the world on a boozy, junk-food fuelled holiday. Destinations like New York, Mexico City, and Venezuela loom large against the starkness of life in working class Macclesfield, and the three push the bounds of responsible drinking, political correctness, and good taste at every available opportunity. Who can pooh-pooh a book written as a vehicle to propose marriage to someone?
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery
This erudite and incisive novella is a plea to those of us who suffer from the degenerative disease of the imagination known as the adult condition. The Little Prince is, a solemn, innocent child who has travelled from planet to planet seeking sense and meaning from those he has encountered. His stories are allegorical tales satirising the futility of modern life and have a foot in both the existentialist and absurdist camps. But in addition to its condemnation of adulthood and the superficial machinations of modern life,The Little Prince is also a poignant examination of love in all its forms. It not only addresses filial and romantic love, but also the source, the manifestation, and the reciprocation of love, not to mention the poignant, richly motivated acts to which love can drive us. One to read when one's birthday rolls around.
The Invisible Man by HG Wells
Iping is your quintessential small town: everyone is known to everyone else; it has its own particular quirks, habits, and customs; it’s narrow in scope, set in its ways, and terribly, terribly insular. So when a mysterious, inhospitable stranger arrives at The Coach and Horses Inn, we know it’s only a matter of time until things begin to go horribly awry.The Invisible Man, however, is far more than a novel that rests on a cool trope and some well-written fight scenes. It’s complex, dark, cynical, and in its final scenes, surprisingly moving. As an examination of the flawed nature of humanity, and the ease with which the facade of our civilised state can slide, it’s a standout work indeed.
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
A challengingly bleak work that slowly, quietly forces itself upon the unsuspecting reader’s psyche. The book opens with an unnamed narrator hiring a crippled husk of a man–Ethan Frome–as his driver during his stay in town. Inclement weather forces them to return to Frome’s home, where the stranger speculates on his driver's downfall, after which point the novel takes us back to the events that culminate in Frome’s disfigurement–a disfigurement that certainly seems to be a sort of moral or karmic retribution. It's a novella that proves that sometimes the greatest horrors are those that aren’t made explicit, and if you’re not thoroughly disturbed by it, then you’re made of sterner stuff than I am.
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