Novellas in November Update #1: Summer, The Pearl, The Night Before Christmas, and Bonjour Tristesse

Mini reviews for mini novels! See the start up post on Another Book Blog, and my introductory post here.

Summer by Edith Wharton

My rating: 5/5 stars

A new Englander of humble origins, Charity Royall is swept into a torrid love affair with an artistically inclined young man from New York City, but her dreams of a future with him are thwarted.

I started reading Summer at the end of October so I could squeeze one last regular classic in before Novellas in November kicked off. I knew nothing about it except it was free on my Kobo. I quickly found out it was a novella. Score! Oh and it’s supposedly an erotic novella. Double score. And yeah, it was pretty hot! I mean, check out this filth:

All this bubbling of sap and slipping of sheaths and bursting of calyxes was carried to her on mingled currents of fragrance.

Bubbling sap indeed. And this:

A clumsy band and button fastened her unbleached night-gown about the throat. She undid it, freed her thin shoulders, and saw herself a bride in low-necked satin, walking down an aisle with Lucius Harney. He would kiss her as they left the church….She put down the candle and covered her face with her hands as if to imprison the kiss.

This book is part Tess of the D’Ubervilles, part VC Andrews’ Heaven and all kinds of awesome. Tess because of the pastoral and natural elements, and the fallen woman thing,  and Heaven because our heroine comes from dirt poor, likely inbred mountain folk and you know what they say, you can take the girl off the mountain…

Charity is such an interesting heroine because she’s selfish, flighty, and well, not that bright. Or at least not at all interested in intellectual pursuits. A realistic teenager, in other words. I’m always surprised by a non-bookish hero, and think that it must be difficult for a writer to get into that head space. Wharton nails it. This book was a delight and my I think it just knocked House of Mirth out of my “favourite Wharton” spot.

Here’s a lovely, more detailed review, if I haven’t convinced you to pick this up.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck
My rating: 3/5 stars

I was so excited to reread this one, thinking I had missed the point when I read it as a thirteen year old. And I did; I definitely had a stronger emotional response this time around. But it was just too condensed for me. I need more story or more description or more something between the heavy moralizing. The Grapes of Wrath was the perfect balance of preachiness and storytelling for me. This one I just find a bit much.

The Night Before Christmas by Nikolai Gogol

My rating: 3/5 stars

It is the night before Christmas and devilry is afoot. The devil steals the moon and hides it in his pocket. He is thus free to run amok and inflicts all sorts of wicked mischief upon the village of Dikanka by unleashing a snowstorm. But the one he d really like to torment is the town blacksmith, Vakula, who creates paintings of the devil being vanquished. Vakula is in love with Oksana, but she will have nothing to do with him. Vakula, however, is determined to win her over, even if it means battling the devil.

Taken from Nikolai Gogol s first successful work, the story collection Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka, The Night Before Christmas is available here for the first time as a stand-alone novella and is a perfect introduction to the great Russian satirist.

When The Dilettantes author Michael Hingston heard I was looking for novellas, he sent me to publisher New Direction’s “Pearls” series. I chose Nikolai Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas because it was the first one I could find at the library.

What an odd little book. It’s kind of a fairy tale with adult leanings. I don’t really feel qualified to comment on the story, as  it probably draws from Ukrainian folklore and is probably satirizing things I’m not familiar with.  I did enjoy reading it though. I mean, the first thing that happens is the devil steals the moon, just like in Despicable Me! The devil was described as being goat-like in appearance but I was picturing Gru the whole time. There’s also a pretty hilarious scene in which the local witch/good time girl has a series of gentlemen callers, each of whom she hides in sacks of coal (conveniently lying around) so the others don’t get jealous.

I will read more Gogol. This was perhaps not the best place to start, but it’s an enjoyable story and would be just lovely to read in front of the fire on Christmas Eve.

Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan


My rating: 5/5 stars

Set against the translucent beauty of France in summer, Bonjour Tristesse is a bittersweet tale narrated by Cécile, a seventeen-year-old girl on the brink of womanhood, whose meddling in her father’s love life leads to tragic consequences.

I lost myself in this book over two days. Children were neglected, housework ignored. I wrote “Perfection” in my Goodreads review and I stand by it.

Like Summer, Bonjour Tristesse is a coming of age story of a teenage girl who has and enjoys lots of (consensual!) sex and I fully approve of that. Cecile is also very selfish, and not just indifferent but contemptuous to her studies and anything else that’s boring or normal. The story eventually reveals her as manipulative, jealous, and lacking in empathy. And like Summer‘s Charity, she still gets to me because she’s so honest and honestly portrayed.

It’s beautifully written too. Sagan on love:

“Your idea of love is rather primitive. It is not a series of sensations, independent of each other…”

I realised how every time I had fallen in love it had been like that: a sudden emotion, roused by a face, a gesture or a kiss, which I remembered only as incoherent moments of excitement.

“It is something different,” said Anne. “There are such things as lasting affection, sweetness, a sense of loss… but I suppose you wouldn’t understand.”

And I love that Cecile reminded me of Cher’s rant about high school boys in Clueless:

Usually I avoided college students, whom I considered brutal, wrapped up in themselves, particularly in their youth, in which they found material for drama or an excuse for their own boredom. I did not care for young people.

I wish that everyone who has to read The Catcher in the Rye would read this one too, because Salinger doesn’t have the market cornered on unlikable heros and brilliant coming of age stories. I love Catcher, but man, I wish I’d read Bonjour Tristesse at 16 too. 

Make sure to tune in next week as I plan to do a vlog about my novella stash. All the cool kids are doing them!



  1. Nish

    All those novellas sound very intriguing. I should pick up Summer sometime. And that Gogol was probably inspired by Ukrainian folk tales. They were huge in my household when I was a kid, and most of these tales were all weird like that.

  2. Pingback: Novellas in November Update #2: Memories of my Melancholy Whores and a Vlog | Reading in Bed
  3. Laurence Miall

    Bonjour Tristesse is brilliant. I am very glad that as a French literature student at the UofA, it was required reading for me!

  4. Pingback: Novellas in November Update #3: The Suicide Shop, The Testament of Mary and The Wizard of Oz | Reading in Bed
  5. Pingback: Reading in Bed Year in Review #4: Best Books and Blog Stats | Reading in Bed
  6. Pingback: Novellas in November 2014 Update #1: Giovanni’s Room, Rip Van Winkle, and Who Will Run The Frog Hospital | Reading in Bed
  7. Pingback: A brief history of Novellas in November | Reading in Bed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s