Exam season: The two dreaded words that seem to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue. It can be frustrating to be told to ‘take a productive break’ from studying, because let’s face it, no one really knows what that means. Maybe it’s watching an episode (or ten) of your favourite TV show. Maybe it’s listening to loud music. Maybe it’s reading. “But I don’t have time to read for pleasure” is the most common response to that suggestion. But trust me, there’s always time to read. Maybe not time to delve into the depths of War and Peace, but there’s always time for a novella. The beauty of novella’s is that they’re quick reads whilst still having the depth and enjoyment levels of a regular novel. Novella’s provide the perfect study break: stimulating and quick.
The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gillman- A novella about a hysterical woman, but without the anti-woman undertones, The Yellow Wallpaper is a feminist masterpiece. The speaker suffers with a nervous depression which is worsened by her patronising husband John. To relieve her anxious mind, the narrator keeps a journal, but being locked in a single room of her house leaves her very little to stimulate her creative juices. She keeps a journal for weeks, slowly depicted her mental decline, reflected through the omnipresent horrors within the yellow wallpapered prison.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin– This is one of the slightly longer novellas on the list at just over 100 pages, but it is well worth a read, perhaps even being my personal favourite on this list. Though this is supposed to be a list of quick reads, I myself spent far to long mulling over the few pages this novella offers. There is so much to unpack in this story, and the cyclicality and use of imagery is spectacular. If you don’t get too obsessive, then this is a quick read! On holiday with her husband, Edna Pontellier attempts to discover autonomy as a woman in a patriarchal society. Almost mirroring a coming of age story, this novella explores the struggle for identity when society restricts female movement. The drama of this story is intense: affairs, children, and a vast amount of pain. This is far from a dull story. If you like Nineteenth Century literature but feel it can be a bit of a drag to get through 400+ pages of internal monologue, then this is the perfect read, capturing the essence of the late Nineteenth Century literary movement in far less words. Keep your eyes peeled for all the birds, it means something!
The Ice Palace by F. Scott Fitzgerald– I feel almost embarrassed recommending this novella, as I read it many years ago purely so I could say I had read more Fitzgerald than just The Great Gatsby. Whilst my motive to read this was somewhat pretentious, it was a surprisingly good read given that Fitzgerald himself is not a fan of the novella format! This story features the classic Fitzgerald stock character of the Southern Belle with a Northern lover. A tale of cultural conflict and prejudice, Sally’s friends are sceptical of her engagement to Harry, a man who isn’t from ‘round their parts’. The lovers visit an Ice Palace, where a series of hallucinations see cultural prejudice enter the unconscious and question the fabrics of relationships within a divided American culture.
Animal Farm by George Orwell– This is a well known novella, but that doesn’t stop it being a worthwhile read. An allegory for Soviet Russia, this story of a farmyard life is highly politicised. The new leading pigs begin a mission to turn Manor Farm into a paradise of equality. The animals are all assigned jobs, educated and live in this ‘utopia’. But as the story progresses, the utopia becomes a dystopia full of rules to keep everyone in line: equality, but only for the select few. The message behind the story is not subtle, but a fascinating read nonetheless.
Lady Susan by Jane Austen– The forever forgotten Austen story which deserves more credit than it gets. Lady Susan is a classic femme fatal, who has men falling at her feet despite the warnings from various women. She tries to marry off her sixteen-year-old daughter Frederica to a man whom she does not love, resulting in her running away. Manipulating married men, single men and her own daughter all for financial gain, it’s up to you to decide whether you love of loathe Susan. Entrepreneur or selfish? Can this even be considered manipulation if Lady Susan doing all she can as a woman living in a patriarchal society which leaves her with nothing following her husband’s death? This novella really makes you think about the limited options women have.
The Hunger Saint by Olivia Kate Cerrone– This is a more recent novella, so if you’re not interested in 19th and 20th Century stories, give this 2017 novella a try and you won’t be disappointed. Set in Post-World War Two Italy, this story follows twelve-year-old Ntoni who works in a mine to support his family, learning the dangers of systematic oppression both physically and mentally. This story is made even more moving by the biographical elements, based on actual Sicilian miner experiences.
There’s always time to take a break and dive into a novella. The average person can read 100 pages in about two hours. That’s about the running time of a standard film. So take a break from one kind of book and dive into one which (hopefully) you’ll find more enjoyable. Reading is a nice way to escape from the stresses of everyday life, making it the perfect way to take a break from studying.