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By John Wilson, First Things, Nov. 5, 2021
John Wilson is a contributing editor for The Englewood Review of Books and senior editor at The Marginalia Review of Books.
Have you noticed the aversion many people have for the word “novella”? I’ve never been able to figure it out. At times I’ve had the sense that the avoiders think it pretentious; why not simply say “short novel”? I prefer “novella” myself because it is a distinct form.
Novellas come in great variety, of course, just as stories and novels do, but it’s not a coincidence that the uncanny makes its presence felt more often in that form. True, there are plenty of fat novels in which weird, fantastic elements can be found from page 1 to page 666. Such books naturalize the uncanny, we might say. But to maintain a certain tension, a frisson, at that length is difficult (not impossible, but difficult); much better to work on the scale of the novella, as Dostoevsky did with The Double. …