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World Book Day 2016 – Let’s celebrate the short novel!

Six perfectly formed little books

Sick of those huge tomes that take up months of your life, weigh down your bag and often end up being badly edited? Try some short novels instead, they’re often better. Short is harder, as we all know. Try one, several or perhaps all (!?) of these….

This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun. I read this Impac Prize winner years ago but still think about it. It’s based on the 1971 assassination attempt on the Moroccan king and the imprisonment of his presumed assassins in the most horrific desert prison imaginable (basically just wholes in the ground) for years on end. One of few survivors told his story to Ben Jelloun which this novel is based on. As gripping, as it’s shocking. 208 pages.

Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell. India Bridge lives a privileged picture perfect housewife life, ruled by conventions and manners. Married to respectable and hard-working Walter Bridge with three children, Mrs Bridge judges other people ‘by their shoes and by their manners at the table.’ Connell’s satirical portrayal of 1920 to 1940s Middle America is hilariously funny, but also has a darker, timeless message. 187 pages

The Life Before Us by Emile AjarThe Life Before Us, the best-selling French novel of the 20th century, is narrated by Momo, a ten year-old Arab immigrant. Momo, who lives in an Parisian orphanage run by ex-prostitute Madame Rosa, has seen things no ten-year old should see and is far too advanced for his age. But despite his shrewdness, Momo is still only a child. Darkly comical and wonderfully poignant, The Life Before Us, deserves to join the ranks of rediscovered classics. 182 pages.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Ofill. Offill’s little gem of a book was on The New York Times’ list of 10 best books of 2014, and with good reason. It’s an unusual novel, written in snapshots, in much the same fragmented way our memory works. It’s the sum of those memories that create the narrative of our past or, in this case, the story of a relationship. In Dept. of Speculation, Offill tells an age-old tale in a refreshingly new way and creates something truly different. 177 pages.

Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante. How would you react if your partner one day walked out on you? In Elena Ferrante’s The Days of Abandonment Olga’s husband Mario announces, out of the blue, while clearing the table that he wants to leave her. Overwhelmed by grief, confusion and anger, Olga descends into madness in this raw, brutally honest story. The Days of Abandonment is explosive stuff – as we have come to expect from Ferrante – and all the better for it. (This book is not part of her Neapolitan novels.)

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck. I’d forgotten how good Steinbeck’s classic really is. Just re-read it after many years and what a gem of a little story! In a mere 120 pages, Steinbeck dives deep into themes such as loneliness, dreams and loyalty while portraying the nomadic lives of ranch hands in America during the Great Depression. To top it off are the most exquisite descriptions of landscapes and farm life. Just great. 120 pages.

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