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:
- Novellas in November: Introduction
- Novellas in November Update #1: Summer, The Pearl, The Night Before Christmas, and Bonjour Tristesse
- Novellas in November Update #2: Memories of my Melancholy Whores and a Vlog
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!
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.