Short novels

I don’t like short novels. I’m fine with novellas. But I don’t like short novels. Not from traditional authors, not if they’re doing a traditional narrative. I don’t care if it’s Tim O’Brien or Arthur C. Clarke, I don’t like short novels. Now, admittedly, I probably wouldn’t read an Arthur C. Clarke novel again—though I did listen to a couple of them when I had a position where listening to audio books was diverting—but I distinctly remember having a problem with his shorter novels when I was of the age I read such things. I’m comparing July, July and 3001. I can’t imagine there’s much crossover between the two readerships. But I’m not a fan. And Liza of Lambeth is going into that stack. When I was in high school, I’d write screenplays with similar length issues, so I think it always bothers me a lot more when I see it. An underdeveloped narrative. Even a constrained narrative needs to work up energy. The constraint alone can’t do it, which is why experimental novels can be wholly successful at shorter lengths. Especially with Liza’s modernist approach, 3001’s sci-fi approach (it’s genre fiction, it’s got its own things going on but it ain’t post-modern), and July, July’s desperate attempts at just finishing—it reads like O’Brien was under the publisher’s screw. They’re all not great examples, I suppose. But they’re big name ones. Sort of. They’re big names but not big books. And not just because they’re short. Wait, I do like other short novels, so long as the writing’s where it’s at. If Liza’s last chapter had been how the whole book had been written, it’d have been a fine short novel. I think I get upset when a short novel isn’t good because it ought to be. There’s a commitment with a shorter length. The author’s got to be invested in that aspect of it.

Scroll to Top