As #NovellaNovember rolls to an end, and given it’s something I’m often asked about, I thought I’d take the opportunity to recommend a bunch of my favourite Australian novellas. Unfortunately, Australian publishers tend to mostly shy away from publishing short books (economies of scale, readers’ misconceived notions of value for money etc etc), and the two best avenues to publication - the Viva La Novella Prize and the Griffith Review Novella Project - have fallen by the wayside. I’m hoping that the huge buzz surrounding Jessica Au’s sublime Cold Enough For Snow changes the landscape because, looking at the books below, Australian writers are punching way above our weight when it comes to producing bloody excellent novellas.
Waypoints by Adam Ousten (Puncher and Wattman, 2022). Long, flowing sentences swirl in what feels like manic incantation, as the narrator seemingly obsesses over Houdini’s little-known attempt to fly across Australia but is really using it as a crutch as he comes to terms with the loss of his wife and child on the ill-fated MH370.
The Poet by Alex Skovron (Hybrid, 2005). A masterful novella with echoes of the mid-20th century European greats by one of Australia's finest but most quietly understated writers. For fans of Kafka, Ungar, Walser etc.
Julia Paradise by Rod Jones (Penguin, 1989). Discomforting and hallucinatory, to say the least, Julia Paradise is a story of obsession and perversion set amongst the Australian expats living in 1920s Shanghai.
The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe (Seizure, 2017). A gorgeous novella that makes high art of Somerset Maugham's scraps, The Fish Girl will draw you in gently before plunging a thousand daggers into your soul.
Piazza Garibaldi by Marisa Fazio (Merrijig Word & Sound, 2021). 1880s Melbourne. Sapphire, a prostitute, and Garibaldi, a labourer, live in a haze of dashed dreams, but find solace in the shared weight of their failure. Both a tender historical snapshot and an ode to human connection.
Formaldehyde by Jane Rawson (Seizure, 2015). One of the weirdest little books to come out of Australia in recent years, this one melds time travel, bureaucracy, amputated limbs and existential philosophy. It’s wild, funny and deadly smart.
Bruno Kramzer by AS Patric (Findlay Lloyd, 2013). Ingenious in both conception and execution, it’s the story of one of the men sent to arrest Josef K at the start of Kafka’s The Trial. Needless to say, the story takes some very strange turns, most notably a delightful central set-piece that riffs on The Hunger Artist.
Anguli Ma by Chi Vu (Giramondo, 2012). A bit of a forgotten gem, Anguli Ma is a beautifully stylised yet stomach-churning reimagining of a classic Buddhist folktale (well, horror story) set in Melbourne’s Vietnamese community during the 1980s. Here the monster is an abattoir worker with a penchant for some very unsavoury flesh.
Marlo by Jay Carmichael (Scribe, 2022). A rather gorgeous romance set in the vibrant queer underground of post-War, infuriatingly homophobic Melbourne. A punch in the gut and a big-hearted hug.
Your review of The Fish Girl is spot on - it nearly killed me! I also loved Mirandi Riwoe's Annah the Javanese, which was a Griffith Novella awardee.
Some great recommendations there Bram. Some I have already read and loved, some on my TBR pile and others I haven’t come across yet.