The border between novel and novella (and the wily “novel/novella in short stories”) is dubious, so the classification of some of the below may be debatable, but here goes. They aren’t really in exact order—consider the first three a tie.
Singularity, by William Sleator
Technically, this is a “YA novel,” but it’s short enough that by adult fiction standards we’d consider it a novella. Read it as a child and loved it, recently re-read it and realized how intelligently conceived and elegantly structured it is. Two twin brothers staying alone in a country house discover a small building on the property; time operates differently inside of it. What begins as a fairly standard if exceptionally well-written sci-fi story becomes a weird, Zen prison diary. A near-perfect little book. I wrote more about it HERE.
The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury
One of the most lovely and mysterious books I know. Bradbury threw together and revised a bunch of short stories he’d written about the colonization of Mars, and together they become an alternate history of humankind expanding into the universe. One of the great underrated works of literature from the last hundred years, comparable in scope and beauty to Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Jesus’ Son, by Denis Johnson
No need to go into detail about this. Almost everyone has read it. It’s amazing.
The Ebony Tower, by John Fowles
A naive artist goes to the French countryside to profile the reclusive and lecherous painter Breasley, an old man now living by himself with two often-undressed young women. Humiliation follows. Fowles is spectacularly good at narrating bewilderment and the crunching down of psychological barriers. Also at describing women.
Wise Blood, by Flannery O’Connor
I like how she loves crazy young men in gorilla suits. Flannery O’Connor writes page-turners.
Treatise, by Noah Cicero
A “remix” of Chekhov’s “My Life,” Treatise is a vicious, weird, and hilarious. I wrote more about it HERE. Cicero is a genius and it’s a crime that his earlier masterpiece Burning Babies hasn’t been published.
Candide, by Voltaire
Is this a novella? Not sure. I think so, given its length. Funny, cruel, convinced of the silliness of human optimism.
Le Grand Meaulnes, by Alain-Fournier
A young wanderer in the French countryside finds himself at a strange chateau where there’s a costume party underway. He encounters a beautiful woman, falls in love, then must leave after a young man at the party apparently commits suicide. He spends the rest of his life trying to find his way back to the chateau and the woman.
Philosophy in the Boudoir, by the Marquis de Sade
The wittily sadistic meanderings of a pathological mind, before his pathologies corroded his sense of humor to the point where he was literally just listing tortures.
Apt Pupil, by Stephen King
One of the best things King ever wrote. Short, vicious, efficient. All-American boy recognizes the Nazi war criminal next door and demands to hear stories of the camps—
with all “the gooshy parts.”
Nick Antosca’s stories have appeared in Nerve, Identity Theory, The New York Tyrant, The Antietam Review, Hustler, Opium, elimae, and others. He has published two novels: Fires (Impetus Press) and Midnight Picnic (Word Riot Press). His website is brothercyst.