Novels, novellas, short stories - RIP?

There is an interesting article in the Guardian newspaper today, about whether or not short stories (or, alternatively, novels) are a thing of the past. The article is online, along with some interesting comments from readers, at:,2170636,00.html

Any thoughts, anyone?

Personally, I read short stories when I’m in the mood for short stories, and I read novels when I’m in the mood for novels. And I don’t much mind if a novel turns out to be a string of short stories in disguise. Perhaps I am too easy to please!

An interesting piece, Siren, and a fascinating thread following it. Thanks for drawing attention to them.

Like you I find there are times in my life for reading short stories and times for novels. I was caught by the notion of “bungalow novels”, and also the idea that many successful novels today, such as Cloud Atlas, are “multi-storey” (although I think there are plenty of exceptions to this rule). I also have sympathy with the view that short-story collections with two killers and five duds do damage to the genre (even, or most particularly, Philip K. Dick’s publishers can be guilty). And why should readers pay a full-novel price for a novella (see McEwan, I.)?

Overall, I wonder whether, when the book market becomes downloads, short-stories will stage a comeback in popularity?

I have to disagree with this (from my own personal perspective, of course). I saw a thread on a blog recently (I think Miss Snark’s) where certain posters were saying that they felt cheated as readers when they had to pay the same price for a 50,000 word novel as they did for a 200,000 word one, as though a novel’s value can be measured in words. I just don’t understand that attitude to reading. I can understand why you would feel cheated if you had to pay the same price for a 100g bag of sugar as for a 200g bag of sugar, but I just don’t see how the same criteria can be applied to literature. Some of my favourite novels are 50,000 words long or less - Slaughterhouse 5, Catcher in the Rye, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Franny and Zooey (the latter admittedly really two long short stories), Murakami’s recent After Dark - and they could easily be categorised as ‘novellas’. But I’m quite happy to pay the same entry price for these as for other, longer works, because I know that in that short space they will give me a lot more to think about and enjoy than a number of longer works whose authors would evidently prefer to show off their verbal dexterity to saying anything truly meaningful. But then, I am quite a slow reader.

Interesting article, though - thanks for posting it, Siren.

All the best,

Applying the quantity/price analysis, we can determine that The daVinci Code is worth – depending upon edition – five to eight times as much as Heart of Darkness.

I think Hugh may have a point there, concerning downloads. About six weeks ago, I reread Heart of Darkness at one sitting, whilst listening to an audio version of it (Gutenburg Press eBook Project), at the same time. A very pleasant way to spend the day, with my ME playing up, and feeling inclined to do nothing but sit.

An audio version of McEwans Atonement, on the other-hand, I just couldnt get into. I gave it away, and the girl I gave it to, had the same reaction. I`m on he lookout for the book in the charity shops (being an impoverished ex-welder), to see if reading it makes a difference, especially with all the hype about it at the moment.

The second time around, however (audio or not), didnt alter the feeling I got first time, that if Conrad had taken us up stream, into the heart of..... the City of London, instead of up the Congo, the story and its denouement, wouldnt have been significantly different.

Why did he anchor the yawl, off Gravesend? A place closely associated with the dumping of the bodies of victims of the Plague, in the 1600s.

I find the opening chapter on the yacht, the most eerily evocative beginning to anything Ive ever read. But, perhaps thats the hallmark of a literary genius.
Take care

The literary genius I refer to in the previous post, is of course, Conrad, not me.

Take care

I don’t think the short story is dead by any stretch of the imagination. But the outlets for them are limited. Genre fiction like SF, horror and fantasy still have a broad range of markets, but the so-called “literary” short story is more difficult to find, or place, apart from in Granta, The New Yorker and a few others. Volumes of stories - Waterstones might stock two or three, if you’re lucky.

But it’s a great form, and I’ve been lucky to have had a number published in print, online (one even performed, as a monologue, in the theatre), and, forthcoming in the Pseudopod horror podcast. And it was Ian McEwans’ two volumes of wonderful short stories which drew me to his work. Although it was the first things he had published, they were promoted heavily

The Fix online (where I am the podcast reviewer) is reviewing short stories by the score, and I recommend you have a look, not just for reviews, but debate as well: