5 Novellas* to Read Part 3: the books.

* That aren’t actually Novellas.

So, having defined in overly simplistic terms the novella in part 1, and discussed five books which could, sort of in a general kind of way, be considered to be novellas in part 2, this post blurs the line even further by looking at 5 short novels that all fall under the 70,000 designated word count for a ‘novella’ classification, but which never seem to be discussed as such.

The other thing I notice looking at this list, is that I read all of them before the age of fifteen which may explain why they’ve all had a lasting impression on me.  (One of them a loooong time before then…)

The Outsiders – S.E Hinton

Original Cover of S.E. Hinton's The Outsiders
Original Cover of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders

 “When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman and a ride home…”

I wrote in the previous post about my observation that a great story in print or celluloid can survive the education process. I read The Outsiders when I was about fourteen and fell in love with it immediately – my American pen-friend, Jenny in California, and who loved all the things I did, was disgusted when I told her – my dim recollection was that they had to read it so much in school it made her ‘barf’.

I hadn’t read S.E. Hinton’s first novel in school, but when I found it (I can’t remember how), it made an immediate and massive impression on me. Even more so that this was written by a 15 year old boy*  based on his own experiences. That was exactly like me – the gang life I was living: trying to survive the mean streets of Seaton Delaval**, regular rumbles between us greasers and the high society socks.***

(* – it was quite some time before I learned that the ‘S’ in S.E. Hinton actually stood for Susan…

** – Seaton Delaval is a small village in the North East of England. Occasionally you’d get warm tar sticking to your shoes from local wooden phone posts, but other than that the streets weren’t really that mean…

*** – Yeah, I didn’t know it was pronounced ‘Sosh’ for quite some time…)

This review may end up being longer than the book itself so, in summary – The Outsiders tells the story, from Ponyboy Curtis‘ view point about his life as a greaser living on the rough side of town, and his fellow gang members including his brothers Sodapop and Darry, Dallas Winston, and Johnny Boy in ’60’s Tulsa and their on-going rumbles with the rich kids from the good side of town.

I loved this book so much I went on to search out everything else Hinton wrote (not an easy task in pre-internet ordering days) – Rumblefish and That Was Then This is Now, shamelessly trying (and failing) to write in a similar way about my home and environment.

Francis Ford Coppolla of course made a film version back in the ’80’s – a great cast, beautiful cinematography, but just didn’t quite do it the way the book did for me.

Danny, the Champion of the World – Roald Dahl

Cover of the Puffin version of Danny The Champion of hte World
Danny The Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

“A message To the children who have read this book. When you grow up and have children of your own, do please remember something important. A stodgy parent is no fun at all! What a child wants -and DESERVES- is a parent who is SPARKY!” – Danny, the champion of the world.” 

Charlie may be better known, Matilda might have got the musical, but for me Danny was always the champion of Dahl’s works for me. And I loved all of Dahl’s stories – for children and his adult works.

DTCotW was based on a short story Roald Dahl wrote entitled ‘Champion of the World’, originally published in The New Yorker. The novel version tells the story of young Danny, who lives with his single parent father in a Gypsy caravan next to the small village garage they own. When Danny discovers his father’s ‘dark secret’ of poaching pheasants they set about a fowl heist against the dastardly Victor Hazel.

Danny was probably the story I re-read most often as a pre-teen. I loved the characters, the story, the world that no longer existed (if it ever did), the heroes triumphing over evil (and not just the odious Hazel – Captain Lancaster is a pretty fabulous baddie as well), the wonderful illustrations (and I had the Puffin version as pictured above: Quentin Blake later re-drew for the book, but I still prefer the old style traditional pictures Jill Bennett drew in the version I had), but mostly, I loved Dahl’s descriptive writing – if I thought I wanted Willy Wonka‘s sweet concoctions, I wanted to try Mrs. Spencer’s meat pie even more. Just read this for evocative writing:

“I began to unwrap the waxed paper from around the doctor’s present, and when I had finished, I saw before me the most enormous and beautiful pie in the world. It was covered all over, top, sides, and bottom, with rich golden pastry. I took a knife from beside the sink and cut out a wedge. I started to eat it in my fingers, standing up. It was a cold meat pie. The meat was pink and tender with no fat or gristle in it, and there were hard-boiled eggs buried like treasures in several different places. The taste was absolutely fabulous. When I had finished the first slide I cut another and ate that, too. God bless Doctor Spencer, I thought.”

Jeremy Irons and Robbie Coltrane starred in a faithful and highly enjoyable movie version in 1989 which is well worth checking out, but the book is a true British treasure.

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

Cover of Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury
Fahrenheit 451 Ray Bradbury

“There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.” 

Bradbury’s 1953 dystopian novel was as relevant when I first read it as a teenager, and was this year when I re-read it for the umpteenth time (when it was also released as an HBO adaptation – this time with Michael Shannon and Michael B Jordan; I haven’t gotten round to seeing it yet).

451 is not my favourite Bradbury novel – that would probably be Something Wicked This Way Comes, but it says a lot about my love of Bradbury that it, and another two of his would all make it into my top fifty.

Paul Montag is a fireman who, in a future world where books are banned, is responsible for burning any that are found; the title referring to (and its’ tagline ‘the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns.

While I avoid politics in these posts I think the relevance of the story’s theme as Bradbury expressed it – originally as a reaction to the McCarthy era, and later addressing it as a commentary mass media’s reduction of the public’s interest in literature, doesn’t really need too much highlighting…

Lord of the Flies – William Golding

Faber & Faber’s 50th-anniversary edition of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies
               Lord of the Flies –              William Golding

“We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?” 

William Golding’s 1954 Nobel Prize winning novel was his first, and is the longest one in this list at around fifty nine thousand words.

LotF was another school set text, and another one I’d read before study started (If it wasn’t for my dazzling personality I’d probably have been beaten up even more in those hard-bitten playgrounds…)

Named by Time magazine as one of the 100 best English-language novels, the book follows a group of school boys stranded on an uninhabited Pacific island. The protagonist Ralph is quickly adopted as the group’s leader, but as the novel progresses and fractions grow, Jack – leader of the hunting party in the group, looks to usurp the hierarchy. What follows is Battle Royale decades before the manga, as the group breaks down into warring tribes, and peace and harmony gives way to will to power.

Over the years, LotF has been adapted as various movies, radio plays, and theatrical productions, not to mention in various homages (including the notable Simpsons episode ‘Das Bus‘). The influence of the novel has reached far and wide – as far as the book’s mountain fort providing Stephen King with his fictional town of Castle Rock.

Ultimately, I think Lord of the Flies was probably the first ‘horror’ novel I read: certainly poor Piggy’s fate stayed with me for a long, long time, and the titular beast is a fantastic literary manifestation of Beelzebub himself.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

“Don’t Panic.” 

It may cover the Galaxy, but you don’t really get much more British than HG2G.

This will be the shortest commentary because Galaxy – like Star Trek, Harry Potter, Dr. Who or Lord of the Rings (and in my opinion if you’re going to read one Lord read the one of the Flies not the troll thing ones…) is beloved, or even obsessed over by so many I’m sure I’d write a hundred things which would be incorrect…

Enough to say, Adams’ novel was originally produced as a radio comedy, and then turned into, among other things like comic books, TV series, video games and feature film, the aforementioned 46 thousand word novel which became the basis for who knows how many (mis) quotes.

Following the adventures of Arthur Dent, the last (dressing-gown wearing) earth man, who along with his, up-until-then-unknown, alien friend Ford Prefect, HG2G, in whichever format you prefer to enjoy it, remains one of the funniest comedies in British culture.


And there we go, the end of the 3 part novella post – which was in retrospect somewhere in the region of 70% non-novella…

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