Novella a Day in May #1

For a while now I’ve been enamoured of the novella. I enjoy sparse writing styles (not so good at this myself 😉) and at its best a novella gives us a narrative distilled to its essence for maximum impact. To spread novella love I’ve decided to post about a novella each day for the whole month. There’s no fixed definition of a novella so for my purposes I’ve decided its longer than 70 pages and shorter than 200. This will definitely work! It won’t peter out and die in a heap by 5 May at all! Onwards…

The Game of Cards – Adolf Schroder (trans. Andrew Brown, 2008) 143 pages

The Game of Cards  is not ostensibly gothic or a thriller, and yet it is both these things. The story of how student Markus Hauser is employed by Selma Bruhns for a week to put several trunks worth of letters into chronological order is truly creepy and suspense-filled.

Selma is a terse, uncommunicative employer, who lives in an old house with a vast number of cats at varying stages of disease. Markus is constantly at the point of leaving, unable to stomach the “stench” of the house, the feral occupants, his awkward employer and the seemingly pointless nature of his repetitive task:

“He squatted down between the piles of letters lying on the floor, but when her resumed his work…looking for the pile in which he was putting the letters from 1943, laying the pages of the letter on it and reaching out for the next one, he paused, as if he’d only just realised that he had absolutely no idea what he was doing”

Gradually however, Markus is drawn into the letters, all written to a woman named Almut.  Very little is given away, but Markus finds himself compelled to continue, without really understanding why.

 “Words from the letters that he had read came alive. He found himself in streets where he had never been, heard the shrieking and whistling of creatures that he could not see but whose presence he surmised, felt on his skin the burning sun whose strength he had never yet felt, saw a woman coming up to him who spoke in a language that he did not understand.”

This chronology is interspersed with the investigation being conducted by Superintendent Berger, who suspects Markus of having strangled Selma with her own scarf on his last day of work. Thus we are drawn into not only the mystery of who Almut is and why Selma is obsessively writing to her, but also who killed Selma and why. Schroder jumps between the two timelines without preamble and so the reader is drawn into the disorienting, imperfectly understood situation of the all the characters.

 “With a sudden move that took Markus by surprise, she threw the animal towards him, it crashed into his chest, and only because Markus reacted quickly and caught the animal could he prevent I from falling onto the ground.

‘You are working slowly and without much concentration,’ said Selma Bruhns, turning round and stepping into the house.”

There is also the question of what happened – and what the stake was – in the titular match between Markus and Selma…

The Game of Cards is a deeply disturbing read, and a powerful portrait of enduring psychological trauma. It will stay with me for a long time.

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28 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May #1

    • Thanks Kaggsy! I do wonder if I’m going to manage this task I’ve set myself but I’ll give it a go…

      Novellas are so small they barely add to the TBR at all 😉 I think it’s this logic that has led to my TBR reaching such ridiculous proportions!

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I love a good novella. It’s great to get stuck in to a weighty tombe, but so nice also to have something shorter to concentrate on. This is a super project and, like Kaggsy and Susan, I anticipate a much-expanded TBR by the end of the month!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Goodness! I feel I’m going to hate you by the end of this if every one you pick sounds as irresistible as this one! Cat throwing?? I would have murdered her with her own scarf myself (or set Tuppence on her, which would be worse.)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I know what you mean about admiring a sparse style though unable to stick to such a style oneself – alas! Ambitious plans for a novella a day, but I look forward to some great recommendations (my wallet will not thank you though, and these tend to be books you cannot find easily at the library).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I look forward to reading your novella 🙂

      I know what you mean about the library – I was pleasantly amazed to find mine had Mirror, Shoulder, Signal in this week, so it’s always worth a check! (Or a pleading look at the librarian plus chocolate bribes)

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  4. I love this idea! I’m going to have so many great new additions to my novella list… starting with this one. One thing I love about novellas is that you can slip them in between longer novels – a good way to try new authors without throwing you way off schedule.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely! It’s a good way to try an new author or style you’re not sure of and seeing how they work. I think they’re good for book hangovers too, when the last book you read made such an impact that you don’t want to launch straight into something else huge, but you still want to be reading.

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  5. Pingback: Madame Verona Comes Down the Hill by Dimitri Verhulst | booksaremyfavouriteandbest

  6. I’m going to love May (and the TBR will be groaning by the end).

    I’ve been on a bit of a novella and short-story binge lately – I think it’s the equivalent of a reading recuperation after the Stella long and short list reading I was doing. I’m also snowed under with work and study at the moment and novellas, short stories and audio books are my way of squeezing some narrative into my day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely see that – the Stella reading must be full-on and shorter tales give you some time to catch your breath! I think what prompted my novella binge was also being snowed under a work – brain space was limited but as you say, you still want to be engaging with stories. I hope I manage to tempt you through the month to help balance out all your hard work!

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  7. What a brilliant idea! I look forward to following your progress, and yet I feel my purse will be significantly lighter by the end of the month. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Whoa! I’m properly impressed! Not just reading one a day but posting it too!! That’s some high-level blogging going on. By the end of this month you’ll be like one of those yoga masters that’s practiced for 50,000 hours and can tune their mind to the frequencies emitted by passing comets, but, you know, the blogging equivalent. Stay strong, you can do this!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Pingback: Book recommendations needed : novellas and short stories | Book Around The Corner

  10. I like to have a novella in my handbag, for those dead times in waiting rooms and so on. Here in Australia Giramondo Publishing has a series called Giramondo Shorts and they have also just started a series called Southern Latitudes which features novellas from the southern hemisphere to our east (New Zealand and South America) and our west (Africa). So we are spoiled for choice:)

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