An impression is worth 100 words

Short is sweet when it comes to fiction, according to Robert Collins at the Guardian blog a couple of days ago. "Novels don't have to be long to say something — just look at A Clockwork Orange, The Great Gatsby and The Outsider, all of which barely break the 100-page barrier and fit nicely in your back pocket." I agree on these examples, which I have read, and also with One Day in the Life of Ivan Desinovich, The Old Man of the Sea, Of Mice and Men, On Chesil Beach and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, all other titles that Mr Collins provides and which I've read. "When they're this good, short novels come close to perfection in a manner for which longer novels are simply not equipped."

I thought I might try to identify some very short crime(ish) novels I have read and that made sufficient impact on me (in one way or another) that I remember them well, sometimes years later: 

TR Therese Raquin by Emile Zola

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

The Time Machine by H G Wells

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

BridgeSLR Cop Hater by Ed McBain

Thumbprint by Friedrich Glauser

The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel

The Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing

The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

CR Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger

Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner.

Any other suggestions of 100-ish page novels that made an impression (does not have to be a positive one)?

19 thoughts on “An impression is worth 100 words

  1. Maxine – Short novels really can “pack a punch.” I agree 100% with you, too about Wells, McBain, Steinbeck, Salinger, and several others. I’d also add that I’ve read several novellas (Maybe I’m wrong, but I categorize them differently from short novels) that are very powerful, too. Robert Colby’s No Experience Necessary is one of my favorites. I don’t know exactly what it is about that one that makes it stay with me, many years after I first read it, but it has.

  2. PS I realise I should have given this post the title “An impression is worth 100 pages”, but too late now 😉

  3. L’Etranger – Albert Camus (well, someone gets murdered at the start!)
    One or two of Miyuki Miyabe’s books are under 200 pages. And I thought Dominique Manotti’s Daquin series was too, but when I checked they appear to be over the 200 mark.

  4. I am not sure I have examples of English novels, but I think Charlotte Perkins Gilman´s “The Yellow Wallpaper” is a memorable short story. And a three-page story which also leaves an impression is Kate Chopin´s “The Story of an Hour”. Both stories can be found online.

  5. I’ve just read the Slaughterhouse 5 two days ago. It got me, as everything by Vonnengut so far.
    My short titles (although I’m not sure if they fit into the 100 pages limit)
    Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
    Animal Farm and 1984 by Orwell
    The 1984 made a huge impact on me: I loved it but I was depressed for days, it left me without hope.

  6. Isn’t it interesting that none of the examples have been published recently. I would assume if you sent a 100 page (or even 200 page) manuscript to a publisher these days they’d laugh at you – or hire someone to pad it out if they thought your manuscript could be ‘saved’.

  7. Thanks, all, for your great examples! In the Guardian post linked here, there is some discussion about the fact that books written these days are much longer, for sales purposes (not quite sure of the economic argument, but there seems to be one).
    Shaz – agreed on L’etranger – which for some reason when translated into English is given the title of The Outsider (eg my edition). I read that many years ago and as it was my first “existential” novel it made a deep impression and I immediately went off and read Sartre. I think Nausea, though, while quite short, is over the 200 mark (from memory).
    Dorte – I have heard good things about Yellow Wallpaper so must read that.
    Jose – I am ashamed to say I have never read that, though I have a boxed set of 6 Conrad books and that is one.
    Victor- agree totally on Animal Farm (sorry, thought I or the Guardian had included it, my mistake) but I think 1984 (also great) is quite a bit longer. I, too, loved Slaughterhouse 5. Perhaps, come to think of it, that was my first existentialist novel, though that book is lots of other things, too.

  8. The Drowned World by J G Ballard is also a great short novel, though when I checked my ancient copy it just breaks the 200 mark.

  9. Carlo Lucarelli’s, Carte Blanche, and the other two in the series of De Luca novels are all pretty good (all three 100 to 150 pages long).

  10. Great suggestions, Martin – I loved both these. The former was far better than the movie, though the movie was good in a different kind of way (and more sentimental, of course). I also enjoyed one called “I Walk the Line” (or maybe that was the title of the movie made from it) which I recall as being very short – about a small-town sheriff in middle USA.

  11. My copy of Naguib Mahfouz’s “The Day the Leader was Killed” clocks in at 102 pages. It was my first exposure to him, and led me to his longer and more well-know novels.

  12. I’d add The Maltese Falcon and Farewell, My Lovely, both fairly short. There are others, I’m sure. Moving over to science fiction, there’s a lot more examples, too.
    But my main point is that I’ve often argued that the novella is actually a perfect length for fiction. Novels can bloat, the novella is elegant and polished and stays focused. A lot of the most memorable fiction I’ve ever read has been short-novel or novella in length. On of the greatest living practitioners of the novella is Robert Silverberg. In crime fiction and SF alike, Barry Malzberg has done some fascinating things with the short novel and the novella.

  13. Thanks, Jonathan, sounds interesting. And thanks, Art. I think Farewell my Lovely and The Maltese Falcon are quite a bit longer than 100 pages, but obviously, both great books. I am not a sci fi reader these days, I’m afraid, though I did read a lot when much younger, and agree that the best of it (in the main) is in the short story or novella format.

  14. Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell are great novels. But now I think about it I’m not sure thoses have under 100 pages

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