Renee Gladman’s Recommended Novellas

To the best of my knowledge there has been no prolonged look at the novella since the late 70s. And I’m not referring to studies on the 17th and 18th century German or Italian novella, of which there are plenty, because these novellas bear very little resemblance to those of the last century. Rather, it is the contemporary form of the novella, which exists outside of the above traditions, that seems to bewilder critics and theorists. What excites me about teaching a course on the novella, or even just having a conversation about it, is that we can’t take for granted what the term “novella” means. In fact, to venture into the writing of our own novellas, we have to, in a sense, define what is at stake. What is it about our subject, or our relation to that subject, our thinking of it, that demands this particular form? I like the idea that the genre is difficult to grasp, that the form itself changes with every new attempt, and that there is no recognizable cannon. For me, right now, today at 4 p.m., I see the novella as a compressed narrative with a singular textual presence, like an extended moment. A gesture, or walk in the city, or question held for a special duration, long enough for micro-happenings to occur along a string of thinking but not so long that any of these events separate and demand their own space of story. Here is a list of novellas, starting with convention and moving more and more outward to what I like to call the “Book Project”:

Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann

The Bench of Desolation, by Henry James

Dreams and Stones, by Magdalena Tulli

Pamela: A Novel, by Pamela Lu

In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan

Company, by Samuel Beckett

Destroy, She Said, by Marguerite Duras

Slut of the Normandy Coast, by Marguerite Duras

A Book, Nicole Brossard

The Trip to Bordeaux, Ludwig Harig

Renee Gladman is the author of Arlem, Not Right Now, Juice, The Activist, A Picture Feeling, and of a work in-press, Newcomer Can’t Swim. Since 2004, she has been the editor and publisher of Leon Works, a perfect bound series of books for experimental prose. She was previously the editor of the Leroy chapbook series, publishing innovative poetry and prose by emerging writers.

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