Novellas in November Update #3: The Suicide Shop, The Testament of Mary and The Wizard of Oz

November is over so in the interest of time, these are going to really short reviews of really short books! Lost? Check out my previous posts:

The Suicide Shop by Jean Teule


My rating: 4/5 stars

With the twenty-first century just a distant memory and the world in environmental chaos, many people have lost the will to live. And business is brisk at The Suicide Shop. Run by the Tuvache family for generations, the shop offers an amazing variety of ways to end it all, with something to fit every budget. The Tuvaches go mournfully about their business, taking pride in the morbid service they provide. Until the youngest member of the family threatens to destroy their contented misery by confronting them with something they’ve never encountered before: a love of life.

This book is like The Addams Family: morbid, cheesy, campy, and ultimately harmless. I was reminded of my years working in a haunted house – the one located under the roller coaster in West Edmonton Mall, which is supposedly haunted by the people who died in the derailing in 1986. We had a Addams Family “electrocution test” machine which supposedly tests your ability to withstand electric shocks conducted through two metal rods that you hold onto, but the rods actually just vibrated. But I digress. This book was weirdly great. It was all those things the Addams Family are – cheesy and campy in the extreme – but somehow it worked. It’s a futuristic fairy tale with a strong moral message at the end, and usually I hate that, but I don’t know, I guess my 90s nostaligia got the better of me. What can I say, I really loved laughing at dumb tourists who paid $2 to hold on to what were essentially a couple of vibrators.

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin


My rating: 5/5 stars

Provocative, haunting, and indelible, Colm Tóibín’s portrait of Mary presents her as a solitary older woman still seeking to understand the events that become the narrative of the New Testament and the foundation of Christianity.

I’m not going to do this book justice in a short review like this, so I will direct you to Another Book Blog and urge you to read it and I will quote this passage, which says absolutely everything:

‘I was there,’ I said. ‘I fled before it was over but if you want witnesses then I am one and I can tell you now, when you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it.’

Okay, I will also say that this book reminded me of Emma Donaghue’s Room, which might seem odd, but they’re both stories of mother and son (or Mother and Son in this case,) maternal guilt, and the inability of parents to protect their children from the world. Even if he’s locked in a room. Even if he’s the son of god.

The Wizard of Oz by Frank L. Baum

I’m not done this one yet, but must note that I’ve been reading it to my (almost) four year old, and it’s been a delight. As readers, we get so excited about reading to our children, but we don’t realize that the first few years are torture – most baby and toddler books are awful. If it’s not super-schmaltzy Love You Forever, it’s some Disney marketing material barely disguised as a book. This is my first experience reading a real chapter book with my kids, and I get it now. Reading to your kids IS awesome. Especially when you get to read about messed up stuff like killer flying monkeys and opium-induced stupors.  

Bonus: Some Novella Publishers of Note

So, you probably enjoyed this event SO MUCH that you want to read a bunch of novellas, right? Here’s a few publishers that specialize in novellas to get you started:

  • Melville House: The Art of the Novella Melville House Books publishes a collection of novellas by the likes of Austen, Eliot, Proust, Dostoyevsky, and Mr. Melville himself. You can buy the whole collection of 52 novellas for a pretty decent price ($410 US) or you can subscribe and receive a novella every month. You can give this as a gift, too – like the Jelly of the Month Club, it’s the gift that keeps on giving. (Hint, hint to a certain sister of mine who is my secret Santa this year.)
  • New Directions: Pearls Confession: I hate these covers. But it’s a great collection of classic novellas, reissued, and includes works by Fitzgerald, Gogol, and Borges. I am giving this collection the side-eye for not including any female authors, though.
  •  Black Hill Press: The only publisher on this list that deal exclusively in novellas, and American novellas in particular, this indie press doesn’t boast any big names, but wouldn’t it be cool to discover a new author through a novella? I’m expecting a review copy of Another Name for Autumn any day now.

Thank you Another Book Blog for hosting! Go check out his epic vlog wrap up – literally epic, it’s 45 minutes long!



  1. ebookclassics

    Jealous you can read a chapter book (and a classic!) to your kid. Mine wants to start at random chapters, turn the page while I’m reading to look for pictures or gets mad at me when I have a coughing fit because I’m not used to reading so many words out loud. They’re reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at school, so one day perhaps it will happen.

    • lauratfrey

      Actually I have all these issues too, even the coughing and losing my voice from reading so many words! But overall it’s good. I do have to flip and find pictures once in a while or all hell breaks loose 🙂

  2. Rick @

    Really sad I wasn’t able to read Suicide Shop this month. Seems like it’s a good time. Glad you liked it!

    I really like your Emma Donaghue comparison. I never would have connected those dots myself, but it’s pretty sharp. Nice one. (I find author-author comparisons extremely difficult, but they’re useful.)

    Such a great idea to post the links to novella publishers! That Black Hill Press is really interesting. Great find.

    And one of the top three reasons to have a kid is reading to them, but I never thought about how mind-numbing is must be for the first few years 🙂

    Thanks again for coming along this month! Hopefully we can make it bigger and better next year.

  3. Kristilyn

    I’ve already started reading to my little guy … even though he has no idea what’s going on! It’s just nice for both of us to curl up in the rocker with a few books, have a read, and finish with a song. Perfect bonding time. 🙂

    I’m really interested in reading The Suicide Shop! It sounds really interesting!

    • lauratfrey

      It was great and you could read it in a day or two, I’m sure. That’s good that you’re reading to him, and enjoying it. Even though I found it tedious when they were really young, I do believe it’s worth it and sets up good habits!

  4. christinasr

    Oh my god yes, some of those picture books you just want to light on fire!
    Can a 4 years old understand The Wizard of Oz? I’ve never watched it read it and it would be fun to read it to my oldest girl (she’s 5) and bond over it – I just thought she would have to be older…

    • lauratfrey

      Yes, Ben just turned four and he could understand. We read just a chapter per day, and sometimes we had to reread bits, or he would get frustrated because there was a page with no pictures. An illustrated edition will help a lot.

      You’ve never seen it either? Wow. I’m still getting over the fact that you’ve never read Flowers in the Attic before 🙂

      • christinasr

        Yeah it’s funny how different our cultures still are in some ways – and how we are more aware of it these days as we are getting more alike.
        I have seen parts of The Wizard of Oz and know the basic story (although not quite the end). I’d never even heard of Flowers in the Attic before this group read…!

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