I love reading a book in one sitting; its impact is magnified because you experience it all in one go, without being interrupted by the outside world (well, except for my ever-attention-demanding cat). Usually books are companions for a few days or weeks – you dip in and out of them alongside your everyday life; your brain deals with a thousand things between readings. So having a chunk of free time in which to devour a book in its entirety is an absolute treat.
Here is just a small selection of novellas (all under 160 pages) that I absolutely love, perfect for experiencing over the course of a couple of hours.
Beside the Sea – Véronique Olmi, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter
We took the bus, the last bus of the evening, so no one would see us. The boys had their tea before we left, I noticed they didn’t finish the jar of jam and I thought of that jam left there for nothing, it was a shame, but I’d taught them not to waste stuff and to think of the next day.
I have absolutely loved every single book published by Peirene Press that I have read so far, so to ease the decision-making process I thought I’d begin by recommending the first title that they published: Beside the Sea. The whole concept behind Peirene is wonderful – they focus on publishing European literature in translation “to be devoured in a single sitting: literary cinema for those fatigued by film” (Times Literary Supplement).
Beside the Sea has stuck in my mind since I first read it about six months ago. It is narrated by a single mother who takes her two sons to the seaside. The writing is compelling and, especially by reading it in one go, you really get inside the head of the narrator. From the very first sentence, the atmosphere is unsettling, the characters’ surroundings threatening, and the book hurtles inevitably towards its tragic ending.
The Bookshop – Penelope Fitzgerald
In 1959, when there was no fish and chips in Hardborough, no launderette, no cinema except on alternate Saturday nights, the need of all these things was felt, but no one had considered, certainly had not thought of Mrs Green as considering, the opening of a bookshop.
A novella about a woman deciding to open a bookshop in a small coastal village might sound like a pleasant and charming read, but think again! Florence’s bookshop plans are strongly opposed by powerful figures in the community, and this brilliantly-written book sheds light on the unspoken rules and hidden hierarchies of village life, revealing the spite and resentment that is bubbling just below the surface.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers – Max Porter
I lay back, resigned, and wished my wife wasn’t dead. I wished I wasn’t lying terrified in a giant bird embrace in my hallway. I wished I hadn’t been obsessing about this thing just when the greatest tragedy of my life occurred.
A stunning mixture of prose, poetry, essay, fables, lists and conversations that explore the nature of grief, as seen through the eyes of a widower and his two sons. They are visited by the ever-changing character of Crow (inspired by Ted Hughes’ creation), who stays with them through their emotional journey. Read my full review here.
Animal Farm – George Orwell
Four legs good, two legs bad!
I’m a big fan of George Orwell, both his fictional and non-fictional writing, and Animal Farm is rightfully up there with his most well-known works. It’s probably the most overtly political of his novels, criticising and satirising the Russian Revolution – but its message of the circular nature of revolution and dictatorship is easily applicable to many countries and human society in general. Like much of Orwell’s work, Animal Farm is written with clarity, skill, and sprinkles of humour – it really is a fantastic read.