Book reviews: Novellas by Leskov, Eliot, and Gallico

Novellas in November 2022

As I am working on my 4th list of books for The Classic Club, I decided to focus on classics for the Novellas in November event, not just this week, but for the whole month.

This week, I finished three, in this order:

The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk


The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, by Nikolai Leskov
Translated by
Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky
So not the edition shown on this book cover
Originally published in Russian in 1865
Literary fiction / Novella
44 pages

Read for The 1929 Club

Leskov is an amazing narrator.
I had only read On the Edge of the World by him, and this novella made me realize more how talented he is in his descriptions of people.

The story begins thus,

“In our parts such characters sometimes turn up that, however many years ago you met them, you can never recall them without an inner trembling.”

And the reason of this “inner trembling” is Katerina Lvovna Izmailova, aka The Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, possibly the first serial killer in Russian literature.

Bored after she was married to Zinovy, a widower twice her age, Katerina gets interested in the steward Sergei. Sergei decides to add her to his collection of women he has seduced, but he has no clue what he’s getting into with the fierce Katerina…

I can’t reveal much more without spoiling it all.
I was amazed how Leskov managed to portray this woman and her milieu in so few pages. We do have lots of details on the living conditions of small Russian merchants and their household at the time.

And obviously, with the reference to Shakespeare’s work, it is a terrifying tale on the effects of passion – and it also includes hallucinations. Though her acts are motivated by greed for love, and not greed for power.
Definitely not a woman and a novella you can easily forget! With a terrible and powerful ending as well!
I read it in the edition of The Enchanted Wanderer, and I really want to read the 16 other novellas included in the volume

Then I went to England with

The Lifted Veil


The Lifted Veil by George Eliot
Published in 1859
Literary fiction / Novella / Gothic

75 pages

Quite a horrifying story as well. In fact it’s often considered as part of the horror genre, and the word “horror” comes back in it as a leitmotiv, though it has nothing to do with the modern horror genre. The horror here being entirely psychological.

I read that it’s the only time Eliot used the first-person narrative. It definitely works and makes the story even more impactful. It actually reminded me a lot of Le Horla, by Maupassant.

The story begins with “The time of my end approaches”, and between now and Latimor’s end, and the end of the novella, he tells us what he’s been through for many years.

The reason of his miserable life is a special gift of “double consciousness”, that is, of seeing the future and things with all accurate details, for instance a city he’s never been to, but most dramatically, of sensing the thoughts of others and their secret opinions of him. With one major exception, Bertha Grant, his sister-in-law at one point of the story.
But when the veil on Bertha’s inner thoughts is finally lifted, things are not rosy…

The atmosphere in this novella is extremely gothic, with powerful vocabulary to this effect.
It’s so very different from Middlemarch, for instance!
I really enjoyed it.

My third novella of the week started in a much more positive way!

The Snow Goose 2


The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico
Published in 1941
Historical fiction ? Novella

58 pages

The story is set in the marshlands of Essex, “one of the last wild places of England”, very desolate, with few living beings, beside birds, ducks, and geese.

It’s the story of Philip, a very kind but ugly hunchback who loves creating beauty. He is a talented painter, and at 27, he decides to go live in solitude in a former lighthouse.
Nature and animals being the only ones bearing his ugliness and able to consider his kindness of heart. Indeed, he creates a sanctuary, to help hundreds of birds during their migration journeys.

One day, Fritha, 12, brings him a wounded snow goose, and the rest of the book is about their relationship.

It’s a very emotional story, especially when Philip decides to put his kindness at the service of humanity… I can’t reveal anything. I was not expecting that turn, and ended up crying a lot. 

Besides that, I liked the oral style narrative the author used to recreate dialogs in the last part of the story.
This is my first book by Gallico. A member of my book club has mentioned several others by him, I definitely want to read them.

Again, I’m really amazed at the author’s talent here at creating such a powerful story with rich characters in so few pages.
I usually have issues with most short-stories, because I always have the feeling that the story could have benefitted from many more pages, but I have to say, the novella format can work tremendously well.

We’ll see if I have the same positive experience with the others I’m planning to read this month:
Scarlet Sails, by Alexander Grin;
A Dog’s Heart, by Mikhail Bulgakov;
Where There’s Love, There’s Hate, by Adolfo Bioy Casares;
The Cloven Viscount, by Italo Calvino.
I have never read anything by Grin, but I admire the quality of the others’ writing, so I have a feeling they will all be treats.

By the way, some time ago, I decided to teach myself Italian, to be able to read Italo Calvino in Italian. I just realized this would be the perfect way of finally diving in, beginning with this novella. I have started and besides a few words I need to check, I find it quite easy, thanks to many months with Duolingo!
Could this also happen one day in Japanese??


Any other good novellas you enjoyed?
Are you participating in Novellas in November?
If so, please leave me your links!



13 thoughts on “Book reviews: Novellas by Leskov, Eliot, and Gallico

  1. Pingback: Sunday Post #69 – 11/06/2022 | Words And Peace

  2. Pingback: It’s Novellas in November time – add your links here! #NovNov22

  3. I have A Dog’s Heart in my options of novellas as well. It for the week of novellas in translation which happens to be this week! I am almost done with The Invention of Morel and then I plan to dive into A Dog’s Heart.


  4. Hi Emma!

    I love love love love Paul Gallico and actually have a whole shelf of his books. The Snow Goose is one of my favorites ever.

    I am interested in the Lady Macbeth one as well, will hop over to Goodreads now.

    Hope you are well otherwise!


  5. Pingback: Novellas in November 2022: recap | Words And Peace

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