Looking for great, short novels, preferably in the first person
September 29, 2017 4:10 AM   Subscribe

Due to a neurological incident, I have great difficulty reading, though I love to read. As a result, shorter novels seem to agree with me more than longer ones--and ones told in first person seem easier to follow. Can you recommend first-person novels under 200 pages? Bonus points if they're on Audible but that's not a deal breaker. Note that I'm not looking for short story collections as stories are usually more oblique and therefore harder for me to follow. Thanks.

Genre isn't super important, though I seem to prefer crime/"drama" to comedy or lighter fare.

Ones I've enjoyed most recently include So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell, Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, Days Withouth End by Sebastian Barry (audiobook) Deliverance by James Dickey (audiobook). The shorter works of James M Cain are also among my favorites, especially The Postman Always Rings Twice.

posted by dobbs to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I wonder if you would like any young adult fiction? Generally shorter and often told in first person. Here is a list of some recommended books from 2016.
I am a teen librarian, so I read YA all the time, but I actually would anyway.
posted by Biblio at 4:36 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Biblio, I appreciate the suggestion, but am not looking for YA fiction as it's just not a genre that I've ever clicked with even when I was a young adult. Thanks, though!

Also, for future answerers, please no science fiction or fantasy. Again, just not my bag.
posted by dobbs at 5:09 AM on September 29, 2017

Here are a few lists that may help you:


Hope you recover from your incident soon
posted by TheRaven at 5:55 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
posted by Mchelly at 6:12 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Great Gatsby, by F Scott Fitzgerald is around 120 pages, and one of the greatest short novels ever written.

The Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, clocks in at about 110 pages, and is amazing, but Conrad can be a tough read.

Another candidate is Goodbye, Golumbus, by Philip Roth, though it usually comes with five additional short stories that make the book 300 pages long. The other stories are pretty good on their own, but GC is definitely less than 200 pages by itself.
posted by ubiquity at 6:15 AM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliff, is a short memoir that is very novel-y and easy to read.

Would short novelistic memoirs in general be of interest? They do have the advantage of being first person. Roald Dahl, horrible person though he was, wrote a few, including Boy. George Orwell wrote the famous long essay Such, such were the joys about his horrible boarding school. It is gripping in its many yuck factors - my dad recommended it to me when I was in my teens and it instantly converted me into a huge fan of Orwell's nonfiction.

Have you read the Henry Rios series? Some of the later books are too long for your ask, but the first few are short and punchy. (They are my favorite detective stories, first person narrative by a gay Latino lawyer working in LA in the nineties. They have a lot of character development stuff and are very "I remember the nineties" to me, even though they're also about homophobia and the AIDS epidemic and deal with some sad thing. I really admire them as hard boiled detective stories and they are totally under-read because they came out before a gay detective novelist could really make a lot of mainstream success.
posted by Frowner at 6:30 AM on September 29, 2017

Dept of Speculation is fantastic!!!!
posted by kbbbo at 6:31 AM on September 29, 2017

I've a feeling you'd love Bonjour Tristesse.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 6:40 AM on September 29, 2017

I think you might like J. L. Carr's _A Month in Country_ (135 pages). Told in the first person and beloved by many.

Some other ideas:

W. Somerset Maugham's _The Moon and Sixpence_ (192 pages)
Graham Greene's _The End of the Affair_ (160 pages)
Elena Ferrante's _The Days of Abandonment_ (188 pages)
Garth Greenwell's _What Belongs to You_ (194 pages)
Marilynne Robinson's _Housekeeping_ (219 pages)

Some other great novels at or around 200 pages, though not told in the first person:

James Salter's _A Sport and a Pastime_ (185 pages)
J. M. Coetzee's _Disgrace_ (220 pages)
J. D. Salinger's _Franny and Zooey_ (201 pages)
Sándor Márai's _Embers_ (214 pages)

Marilynne Robinson's Gilead is 247 pages but it is written in the form of a letter from a father to a son and is one of my favorite novels of all time.
posted by 826628 at 6:42 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dear Committee Members (Julie Schumacher) is 181 pages, composed entirely of letters, available in all formats, and FUNNY.
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 6:50 AM on September 29, 2017

I think Salvage the Bones, by Jesmyn Ward, may exceed your page limit, but it's simply remarkable and the audiobook is extremely well read.
posted by janey47 at 7:06 AM on September 29, 2017

We Have Always Lived In The Castle, by Shirley Jackson. A frequent recommendation from MeFites, for good reason.
posted by matildaben at 7:13 AM on September 29, 2017

On the crime/noir side (inspired by your reference to James M. Cain), I recommend Horace McCoy's They Shoot Horses, Don't They? for its brevity and first-person narration. It's not a cheerful read, though, so please avoid if you're feeling down.
posted by honey wheat at 7:29 AM on September 29, 2017

I also recommend Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan as a very readable and easy-to-follow novella, although I believe it is written in the third person.
posted by honey wheat at 7:39 AM on September 29, 2017

Toni Morrison's Sula is 192 pages.

If you liked Jean Rhys, her Wide Sargasso Sea is 176 pages.

You can check out the table of contents to the Norton Introduction to the Short Novel here. There are fifteen novels listed.
posted by FencingGal at 7:59 AM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I recall reading J.M. Coetzee's Foe in college--it was about 150 pages. Pretty chewy, though. It's sort of a retelling of Robinson Crusoe.

Most of Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mystery novels are around the desired length. They're set in early to mid-20th century NYC, told in a delightful first-person narrative by the indolent, cultured detective Wolfe's streetwise assistant.

P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster light comic novels about early twentieth-century London are also short and in the first person. My personal favorites are The Code of the Woosters and Joy in the Morning (aka Jeeves in the Morning).
posted by praemunire at 11:27 AM on September 29, 2017

Buzzfeed has some suggestions here.
posted by meronym at 1:07 PM on September 29, 2017

Graham Greene's _The End of the Affair_ (160 pages)

If you like Greene, there is also:
  • Dr Fischer of Geneva (156 pp)
  • The Quiet American (180 pp)
  • The Third Man (160 pp)
I remember Our Man in Havana as being short, but apparently its 250 pages. I would still recommend it for being well-written and funny.
posted by ubiquity at 1:16 PM on September 29, 2017

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I've already read a bunch that you've recommended and will check out a bunch of those unfamiliar and report back. Thx!
posted by dobbs at 3:43 PM on September 29, 2017

Response by poster: Without doubt the best short book I've read since posting this question was Train Dreams by Denis Johnson. Nothing short of a masterpiece.
posted by dobbs at 4:54 PM on March 3, 2018

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