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A Novella Monday

November 16, 2009

november-novella-challenge-300x181Usually, I do Short Story Mondays, and I really enjoy that. But due to being ill, I’m really behind in reviews. If I play my cards right, I should be caught up by the end of the week, so I’ll be doing multiple, themed reviews most days. :)

Novellas are the next best thing to short stories, lol, and I’ve been reading them for the November Novella Challenge. I have four books to talk about today (click on title to jump to a specific review): Little Star of Bela Lua by Luana Monteiro, Hardboiled & Hard Luck by Banana Yoshimoto, The Girl With the Golden Shoes by Colin Channer, and Hush by Jacqueline Woodson.

LittleStarofBelaLuaI was really excited about Little Star of Bela Lua by Luana Monteiro, because I have a bit of a thing for Brazil and lusophones! But I haven’t actually read that many Brazilian authors, and Monteiro was the first female Brazilian writer I’d tried. Now, this book is subtitle ‘a novella and stories,’ and the table of contents indicated that the novella came first. But just as I was settling into the story, it ended. And a new story began. So I went back to the table of contents, and discovered that the ‘novella’ was actually four short stories, which were (I discovered upon actually reading them) tenuously interlinked. Novellas, in my opinion are not interlinked stories, and I became quite grumpy with the author and editor for deceiving me. This grumpiness lasted for about sixty pages, before the wonderfulness of the writing made me forgive them. Because seriously, Monteiro is an incredible storyteller. There’s quite a sense of place-I felt like I was in remote Brazil along with the characters, and the plots have a dash or two of the magical realism which I love. The characters are quirky but fully-fleshed out, and even though I wouldn’t call this a novella and stories, as a short story collection I highly recommend it. It looks a lot at the intersection of religion and culture-how Catholicism has mixed with native beliefs (or beliefs brought over by slaves), how people in rural Brazil make religion a part of their lives, etc. My favourite story was the last one: “The Whirling Dove.” It’s always difficult to talk about short stories without giving too much away, but Cloé is the protagonist, a Brazilian living in Miami. Her life was irrevocably changed when as a preteen girl she attended a summoning of the Orixes (Afro-Brazilian gods), and as an adult she struggles to overcome that. I loved it for the sensuous descriptions, for the challenges and dilemmas Cloé faces, for just the damn good storytelling. I highly recommend this collection, especially to those who love Latin American lit.

HardboiledandHardLuckFortunately, the other three books I read were true novellas! Back in January, I read Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto and realised that I might have found a new favourite author. Now that I’ve read Hardboiled & Hard Luck, another book of two novellas, I know that for sure! She’s so wonderful at bringing the reader straight into the emotions of her characters, of making their stories feel immediately important. I seriously love her. “Hardboiled” is the longer of the two novellas, and it was my favourite by a sliver. It takes place over a day, in which the narrator is hiking in the woods and checks in at an obscure guesthouse, then has a restless night, and leaves later. But the story is about nostalgia, as the narrator reminisces over her ex-girlfriend and feels regret over how their relationship ended. And it’s about ghosts…the narrator’s ex-girlfriend visits her in a couple of dreams, and later it’s discovered that the guesthouse has its own hauntings. It’s just so beautifully done, I don’t know how to convince you to read it other than saying “Go now!” “Hard Luck” is narrated by another young woman (I wonder if all of Yoshimoto’s works have young women narrators…I hope so, she does it so marvelously), whose sister is in a coma and is gradually dying. As she struggles with her grief, and more so her disbelief, that something like that could happen, she also begins to befriend her sister’s fiancee’s brother (got that?) who visits the hospital regularly. As the story progresses, the narrator struggles more and more to move on in her own life. This one was wonderful as well, and I loved the ending. Like Kitchen, this book is centered around themes of grief and haunting, but with a good measure of hope as well. I highly recommend Yoshimoto to everyone, and Hardboiled & Hard Luck would be a great place to start. I’m just happy she has several more books in her backlist. :)

TheGirlwiththeGoldenShoesThe Girl With the Golden Shoes by Colin Channer has a fable or fairy-tale feel to it and is set on an imaginary Caribbean island (have you noticed Caribbean authors seem to make up islands pretty frequently?) during WWII. Fourteen-year-old Estrella (see? even her name has a fun symbol!) is banished from the tiny village she lives in with her adopted grandmother due to the superstitions of these old fishermen. She’s been learning how to read, and she has big dreams that disturb the people she knows. So she sets off on a quest to get to the capital, buy a pair of beautiful shoes, and get work in a fancy store to begin saving up money to travel to Europe. The novella is about that quest, and takes place mainly over the course of a day or two. It’s really a classic Hero’s Journey story, but Channer still manages to make it feel fresh. He brings a wonderful sense of place to the book, and Estrella herself is a great heroine, at that in-between phase when she’s neither a child or an adult. I seriously loved this book too! The writing is marvelous, and Estrella is constantly finding herself in new adventures. I’d highly recommend this if you enjoy any kind of fairy tale/fable book or are curious about Caribbean authors. I hope to read more of Channer’s books soon.

HushFinally, I read Hush by Jacqueline Woodson. This is the third book of hers I’ve read this year-they’re all YA novellas, and I’ve loved them all. This one had an especially neat premise: Toswiah Green has a great life in Denver-her dad’s a cop, her mom’s a teacher, and her best friend has been there for her since they were both babies. But then her dad sees something, and the family is forced into the witness protection program…Toswiah becomes Evie, her older sister becomes Cam, and her parents seem to be entirely different people. The book isn’t told chronologically-Toswiah weaves in bits of her old life and bits of her new. Woodson is marvelous at pacing, and this book is no exception. I identified with Toswiah from the first page, and I had to keep reading, hoping that eventually both she and her family would find themselves again after their old lives were erased. I loved every moment of the story, and I think it ended on a perfect note. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of YA books as a genre-I say that so that all of y’all will know my perspective when I say everyone should read Jacqueline Woodson, regardless of which genres you normally read. I loved Hush, and I think everyone who enjoys a good story will too. And since it’s a novella, it can be read in one delightful sitting.

Well, there you go! Obviously, my novella reads so far have been wonderful, and I hope the rest of them will be too! (I committed to reading at least eight.) Do you read novellas? What’s your favourite?

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2009 2:28 pm

    My favorite novella is A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean. It always makes me think of my father and fly fishing, two things we did a lot during my childhood. :)

  2. November 16, 2009 4:31 pm

    I also recently read and posted on Hardboiled for the Novemeber Novella Challenge-I am reading Hard Luck now and will post on it also-Hardboiled was a lot of fun to read. I love her books and hope to read them all one day-I am not familiar with the other writers you posted on but they sound very interesting

  3. November 16, 2009 4:36 pm

    I recently ‘discovered’ Banana Yoshimoto, and just love her writing! Will look for Hardboiled & Hard Luck at the library this week…and thanks for reminding me to write that review for Kitchen.

  4. November 16, 2009 4:59 pm

    Every book. Every single one of these now has to be added to my wish list. Okay, my dear, I hope you’re proud of yourself. ;)

  5. November 16, 2009 5:57 pm

    I saw Hush at the library the other day, and recalled seeing someone else’s review around the blogs- now I’m really curious about it. I’ve always wondered, at what point is it a novella and not a novel? Is there a certain length that cuts off the classification? or just up to the reader’s judgement?

  6. November 16, 2009 9:06 pm

    Good to hear the Hardboiled and Hard Luck is another good one! Loved Kitchen and Lizard, but felt a little lukewarm with Goodbye Tsugumi. Have you read Asleep? Is it good? I’m curious about that one. Will be looking out for a copy of Hardboiled now, thanks! :D

    I do love novellas. Have so many favourites, I’m sure I’ll miss something, but three that I absolutely love are The House of Paper by Carlos Maria Dominguez and The Man with the Dancing Eyes by Sophie Dahl and Einstein’s Dreams by Alan Lightman. Have you read them? If not, then you should!

  7. November 16, 2009 9:58 pm

    I think It’s time I get Hush and read it. People are raving about it and that is making me want to read it desperately. :)

  8. November 17, 2009 6:54 am

    I love the look of these. Especially the book by Banana Yoshimoto. I definitely want to read that one. It is nice when you find new authors that you fall in love with.

  9. November 17, 2009 11:26 am

    I totally support Novella Monday.

    All reviews were excellent.

  10. November 17, 2009 11:50 am

    I don’t read very many novellas or short stories for that matter but I’m definitely adding the Banana Yoshimoto one to my list. I read Kitchen early in the year too and just loved it.

  11. November 17, 2009 1:18 pm

    Katy, I think I’ve heard of that one before, but I haven’t read it. How fun that it reminds you and being a kid. :)

    Mel U, isn’t Yoshimoto awesome?!

    JoAnn, glad to see another Yoshimoto fan!

    Debi, lol-at least they’re all short. :D

    Jeane, Wikipedia gives word count, but I usually think of a novella as 100-200 pages. I think officially it’s like 60-120, though.

    Claire, I’ve only read Hardboiled & Hard Luck and Kitchen. So you’re ahead of me! :) I haven’t even heard of two of the novellas you mention (I have heard of Einstein’s Dreams, and it’s on my TBR list)-but now they’re all on my wishlist! :)

    Shona, lol-it won’t take long.

    Vivienne, isn’t the cover for the Yoshimoto really pretty too? Love that blue!

    JT, thanks. :D

    Iliana, I’m surprised she isn’t better known, her writing is so good!

  12. November 17, 2009 2:16 pm

    Eva, I can’t find your email address.. please email me at dreamsongpoem at gmail dot com!

  13. November 17, 2009 7:10 pm

    I haven’t read many novellas lately. Thanks for the reminder that I should! I also have heard wonderful things about Woodson. Maybe I’ll start there.

  14. November 18, 2009 10:03 am

    Claire, I’ve e-mailed you! :)

    Rebecca, Woodson is pretty awesome. I think my very fave might still be the first of hers that I read -Feathers.


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