Five Final Novellas: Adichie, Glück, Jhabvala, Victory for Ukraine, Woodson (#NovNov22)

We’ll wrap up Novellas in November and give some final statistics tomorrow. Today, I have mini reviews of another five novellas I read this month: one short nonfiction reread and then fiction ranging from India in the 1920s to short stories in comics about the war in Ukraine.


Notes on Grief by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2021)

[85 pages]

This came out in May last year – I pre-ordered it from Waterstones with points I’d saved up, because I’m that much of a fan – and it’s rare for me to reread something so soon, but of course it took on new significance for me this month. Like me, Adichie lived on a different continent from her family and so technology mediated her long-distance relationships. She saw her father on their weekly Sunday Zoom on June 7, 2020 and he appeared briefly on screen the next two days, seeming tired; on June 10, he was gone, her brother’s phone screen showing her his face: “my father looks asleep, his face relaxed, beautiful in repose.”

My experience of my mother’s death was similar: everything was sudden; my sister was the one there at the hospital, while all I could do was wait by the phone/laptop for news. So these details were particularly piercing, but the whole essay resonated with me as she navigates the early days of grief and remembers what she most admires about her father, including his piety, record-keeping and pride in her. (How lucky I am that Covid travel restrictions were no longer a factor; they delayed his memorial service.) My original review is here. Cathy also reviewed it. If you wish, you can read the New Yorker piece it arose from here.


Marigold and Rose: A Fiction by Louise Glück (2022)

[52 pages]

The first (and so far only) fiction by the poet and 2020 Nobel Prize winner, this is a curious little story that imagines the inner lives of infant twins and closes with their first birthday. Like Ian McEwan’s Nutshell, it ascribes to preverbal beings thoughts and wisdom they could not possibly have. Marigold, the would-be writer of the pair, is spiky and unpredictable, whereas Rose is the archetypal good baby.

Marigold did not like people. She liked Mother and Father; everyone else had not yet been properly inspected. Rose did like people and she intended them to like her. … Everyone understood that Marigold lived in her head and Rose lived in the world.


Now every day was like the days when the twins did not perform well at naptime. Then Mother and Father would begin to look tired and harassed. Mother explained that babies got tired too; often, they cried because they were tired. I don’t cry because I’m tired, Marigold thought. I cry because something has disappointed me.

As a psychological allegory, this tracks personality development and the growing awareness of Mother and Father as separate people with their own characteristics, some of which each girl replicates. But I failed to find much of a point.

With thanks to Carcanet Press for the free e-copy for review.


Heat and Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala (1975)

[181 pages]

A lesser-known Booker Prize winner that we read for our book club’s women’s classics subgroup. My reading was interrupted by the last-minute trip back to the States, so I ended up finishing the last two-thirds after we’d had the discussion and also watched the movie. I found I was better able to engage with the subtle story and understated writing after I’d seen the sumptuous 1983 Merchant Ivory film: the characters jumped out for me much more than they initially had on the page, and it was no problem having Greta Scacchi in my head.

In 1923, Olivia is a bored young officer’s wife in India who becomes infatuated with the Nawab, an Indian prince involved in some dodgy dealings. In the novel’s present day, Olivia’s step-granddaughter (never named; in the film she’s called Anne, played by Julie Christie and changed to a great-niece for some reason) is also in India, enjoying the hippie freedom and rediscovering Olivia’s life through the letters she wrote to her sister. Both novel and film cut quickly and often between the two time periods to draw increasingly overt parallels between the women’s lives, culminating in unexpected pregnancies and difficult decisions to be made. I enjoyed the atmosphere (see also The Painted Veil and China Room) and would recommend the film, but I doubt I’ll seek out more by Jhabvala. (Public library)


PEREMOHA: Victory for Ukraine (2022)

[96 pages]

Various writers and artists contributed these graphic shorts, so there are likely to be some stories you enjoy more than others. “The Ghost of Kyiv” is about a mythical hero from the early days of the Russian invasion who shot down six enemy planes in a day. I got Andy Capp vibes from “Looters,” about Russian goons so dumb they don’t even recognize the appliances they haul back to their slum-dwelling families. (Look, this is propaganda. Whether it comes from the right side or not, recognize it for what it is.) In “Zmiinyi Island 13,” Ukrainian missiles destroy a Russian missile cruiser. Though hospitalized, the Ukrainian soldiers involved – including a woman – can rejoice in the win. “A pure heart is one that overcomes fear” is the lesson they quote from a legend. “Brave Little Tractor” is an adorable Thomas the Tank Engine-like story-within-a-story about farm machinery that joins the war effort. A bit too much of the superhero, shoot-’em-up stylings (including perfectly put-together females with pneumatic bosoms) for me here, but how could any graphic novel reader resist this Tokyopop compilation when a portion of proceeds go to RAZOM, a nonprofit Ukrainian-American human rights organization? (Read via Edelweiss)


Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (2016)

[175 pages]

August looks back on her coming of age in 1970s Bushwick, Brooklyn. She lived with her father and brother in a shabby apartment, but friendship with Angela, Gigi and Sylvia lightened a gloomy existence: “as we stood half circle in the bright school yard, we saw the lost and beautiful and hungry in each of us. We saw home.” As in Very Cold People, though, this is not an untroubled girlhood. Male threat is everywhere, and if boyfriends bring sexual awakening they are also a constant goad to do more than girls are ready for. In short, flitting paragraphs, Woodson explores August’s past – a childhood in Tennessee, her uncle who died in the Vietnam War, her father’s growing involvement with the Nation of Islam. What struck me most, though, was August’s coming to terms with her mother’s death, a fact she doesn’t even acknowledge at first, and the anthropological asides about other cultures’ death rituals. This was my second from Woodson after the Women’s Prize-longlisted Red at the Bone, and I liked them about the same. A problem for me was that Brown Girls, which, with its New York City setting and focus on friendships between girls of colour, must have at least partially been inspired by Another Brooklyn, was better. (Public library)


In total, I read 17 novellas this November, though if you add in the ones I’d read in advance and then reviewed over the course of the month, I managed 24. All things considered, I think that’s a great showing. The 5-star stand-outs for me were The Hero of This Book and Body Kintsugi, but Up at the Villa was also a great read.

20 responses

  1. […] Five Final Novellas – Rebecca at Bookish Beck […]


  2. Well done on reading so many novellas Rebecca and I admire that you were able to read Notes on Grief with your own experience still so fresh x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cathy, you managed to read loads as well in spite of Covid! Forces have been conspiring against us but there’s not much that can stop determined readers.


  3. Wow, Rebecca – what an achievement! As to your books today – I remember I had a bit of a Ruth Prawer Jhabvala moment in my 20s. I enjoyed her then, but haven’t given her a thought since. To revisit, or not to revisit, that is the question. I can sense you’re saying ‘no’.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had no idea she wrote so much! Mostly short stories, it looks like. She had a hand in a lot of Merchant Ivory adaptations as a screenwriter. I was interested to learn she was actually a Polish Jew, but married an Indian man.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think that was what provoked my initial interest to her work, having Polish blood myself.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you about Brown Girls with its clever narrative style although I read Another Brooklyn when it was first published here and was very impressed with it. Congrats on another successful #NovNov!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Susan! It’s a shame to read things out of order and not appreciate them as much, but my mind works comparatively like that.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Wow, well done! Congratulations on another great NovNov. I managed 10, of which 8 were from my original 15 I laid out to choose from; I’m very happy with that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I read the Woodson for book group, remember commenting that it was forgettable, and indeed it has totally vanished from my head, along with Red at the Bone 🙂 I also felt that I had read it elsewhere before and better, though I’ve not read Brown Girls.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I want to like her stuff more than I do. I know she’s written YA as well, and I wonder if part of it has to do with that?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I also suspect this, as I don’t generally get on well with YA.


  8. I remember your first response to reading the Adichie, so I can appreciate your wanting to get back in touch with it.

    Good job with novellas this month, Rebecca, including this latest last haul. The Ukraine compilation might be worth my looking out, but it’s the Jhabvala that I’ll definitely keep an eye out for as I have faint memories of seeing the film in the cinema when it first came out.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like reading the book after seeing the film, though I appreciate that most people prefer the other way round.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Reviewing just didn’t happen in November, but I did fit in some novellas and lots of reading. I’ll post my overview later today. I had to go to book club yesterday evening or I would have still scraped in before the end of November.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No problem at all! I know that’s how it goes sometimes. We’ll continue collecting links for as long as people send them.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I remember seeing the movie Heat and Dust, but it didn’t make me want to read the novella.


    1. I didn’t like the writing enough to recommend it.

      Liked by 1 person

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