Saturday 16 November 2019

The Water of Life by Mary-Rose MacColl

So, novellas.

November is not only AusReadingMonth and Non-Fiction November, it's also Novellas in November. Given my hectic life and work schedule, novellas seem like a pretty good option at the moment, but what exactly IS a novella?

In the spectrum of written words how does one define a short story, a novelette, a novella or a novel?

When I started looking online, I was quickly overwhelmed with a variety of options and definitions.

One dictionary helpfully defined a novella as 'a short novel or long short story.'

Most sites, though, agree that a novella is somewhere between 17,500 and 40,000 words. A novelette is considered to be 7,500 - 17,500 words, a short story under 7,500, a novel over 40,000. Now you know!

Famous Novellas: of which I have (R)ead quite a few.

Animal Farm  (R)
The Awakening
Billy Budd
The Body  (R)
Breakfast at Tiffany's  (R)
The Bridge of San Luis Rey  (R)
A Christmas Carol  (R)
A Clockwork Orange
Daisy Miller
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Death in Venice
Ethan Frome  (R)
Heart of Darkness
I Am Legend
Kitchen  (R)
The Little Prince
Of Mice and Men  (R)
The Old Man and the Sea
The Pearl
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie  (R)
The Sense of an Ending  (R)
The Stranger
The Summer Book  (R)
The Time Machine
The Uncommon Reader  (R)
Three Blind Mice  (R)

I haven't completed a word count on The Water of Life by Mary-Rose MacColl, but since it was included in the Griffith REVIEW 38: The Novella Project, I have to assume it meets the usual standards.

This Water of Life is set in Brisbane and just like water, is a fluid story. Moving and sliding between times, points of view and interpretations. There's the unnamed writer, as well as Jason - a young artist, his ex-partner, Kyah and the bus driver. An accident (or was it?) brings their lives together in one heart-breaking, life-changing moment.

The Text Publishing page describes the story with this brief blurb:
It takes only a moment of distraction to end Jason’s life, yet the consequences ripple across Brisbane for years. An arch and moving slice of life.

I'm not so sure about the years part though. I didn't get a sense of that much time after the accident. Before the accident, yes.
Before the accident we got a good dose of Jason's backstory and a tease of information about the writer's life.  We certainly felt the ripples of effect though, not only of the accident, but also from earlier life events that drew us into the accident.

As you might expect, descriptions of water feature throughout the piece:
IN THE MORNING before the Coroner decides I am a good man, I watch the river under the bridge. The water moves in fast little eddies. Sticks I drop spin round and round before they disappear. This is it, the answer, the water turning and turning and disappearing into itself and making making making.

Some days she gets in the shower and turns on the water and lets it hit a place on her back. She turns off the tap and cries in the drought, wastes only the water of her tears. This is a city too dry for melodrama.

It wasn't always easy to keep pace with the changes, but I eventually found myself just going with the flow, letting the words wash over me. No longer worried about linear timelines or the constraints of reality.

Given that Laura @Reading in Bed believes that the best novellas are 'super short, super weird, and translated', then The Water of Life ticks two out of three!

This was a story about the psychological ripples that we all live with. The things that can happen to us at different times, the coincidences that bring strangers together and the way that lives interweave and intersect whether we know it or not.

A promising start to my Novella's in November during AusReadingMonth campaign!


  1. "...go with the flow..." I'm sure no pun intended!
    I never realy paused to think about a novella.
    I will have to see which novella's I've read....and
    curious to know more about the Griffith Review!
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about The Water of Life!
    Finishing a non-fiction book today for #AUSReadingMonth.

    1. Don’t be too sure about that Nancy! I love a good pun ­čśä
      I have a full response to a Griffith Review coming up soon. You can read one article/essay/story per month free online. And they’re available as Ebooks as well. A different topic/theme each quarter - a fabulous introduction to many Australian authors, scientists, essayists, poets etc. Highly recommended.

  2. After looking at the great link to Novella's in November I was
    glad to see there are also "non-fiction' novella's!
    I'm trying to concentrate many reading hours on non-fiction now and in 2020.
    Here is a GREAT suggestion for a non-ficton novella ..."more than an essay but less than a book":
    Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch.


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