Based on curated lists from Lit Hub, Book Riot and more, suggestions from readers on Goodreads and Reddit, and recommendations from authors like Stephen King, Seanan McGuire, Banana Yoshimoto and Sandra Cisneros, here is a roundup of the 93 best novellas ever written.
For the purposes of this list, I am following the Science Fiction Writers of America’s definition of a novella: a prose work of fiction between 17,500 and 39,999 words in length. I found estimates or actual word counts of all the books on this list. If a book’s estimated word count was near either limit and the book was regularly referred to as a novella, I considered it eligible.
To compile the final rankings, I assigned a weighted score to each novella appearing on a previous list and combined these scores with votes from readers and authors to produce a cumulative score that distinguished 93 books as the best novellas from the pack of more than 800 candidates.
(In the event of a tie, books were ranked according to a combination of Amazon and Goodreads reviews. Books in a series were considered a single entity and are listed by the highest-ranked book in the series.)
As a bonus feature, I’ve produced two downloads:
- The best novellas and short fiction according to eight authors featured on this list
- A one-page PDF shopping guide to The Best Novellas
You can access both of these free resources below. And now, on with the list!
The Best Novellas
93. Being There by Jerzy Kosiński (1968)
92. The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
91. The Tunnel by Ernesto Sabato (1948)
90. Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire (2016)
The first installment in McGuire’s Wayward Children series follows a group of children in a boarding school for those who have visited magical lands and become forever altered by their experiences there. It won the Hugo, Nebula and Locus Awards for best science fiction and fantasy novella and one of ten 2017 Alex Awards for adult books with special appeal to young adults.
89. Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions by Edwin A. Abbott (1884)
88. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll (1974)
87. The Body Artist by Don DeLillo (2001)
86. Woman at Point Zero by Nawal El Saadawi (1977)
85. Bear by Marian Engel (1976)
A lonely archivist is sent to catalog a library on a remote island in northern Ontario, where she enters into a sexual relationship with a bear. The Canadian Encyclopedia called Engel’s book “the most controversial novel ever written in Canada,” yet it won the 1976 Governor General’s Literary Award for the best literature published by a Canadian author.
84. Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls (1982)
83. Lady Susan by Jane Austen (1871)
82. The Most Precious of Cargoes by Jean-Claude Grumberg (2019)
81. The Lifted Veil by George Eliot (1859)
80. Carmen by Prosper Mérimée (1845)
Mérimée’s novella about the forbidden romance between a young Gypsy woman and a Spanish cavalry corporal was adapted by Georges Bizet into the famous opera of the same name.
79. Doctor Glas by Hjalmar Söderberg (1905)
78. Seize the Day by Saul Bellow (1956)
77. The Dying Animal by Philip Roth (2001)
76. Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth (1959)
This novella about a college romance and class issues in Jewish-American culture was featured in a collection of short fiction of the same name. The collection won the 1960 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, and the title novella was adapted into a 1969 film.
75. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin (1972)
74. The Langoliers by Stephen King (1990)
One of four novellas in the collection Four Past Midnight, The Langoliers follows a group of travelers on a cross-country flight who wake up to discover that the plan’s crew and most other passengers have suddenly disappeared. The collection won the 1990 Bram Stoker Award for best collection of dark fantasy and horror stories and was nominated for a 1991 Locus Award, and the novella was adapted for a 1995 TV miniseries.
73. Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang (1998)
A linguist tries to communicate with aliens and discovers their language allows her to see into the future in this winner of the Nebula Award and the Theodore Sturgeon Award for best short science fiction story. The novella was adapted into the 2016 Oscar-nominated film Arrival.
72. The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami (2005)
71. Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal (1965)
70. No One Writes to the Colonel by Gabriel García Márquez (1961)
69. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (2007)
A newlywed couple’s anxieties about their consummation threaten their marriage in this Booker Prize nominee that was adapted into a 2018 film of the same name.
68. Death in Venice by Thomas Mann (1912)
67. We the Animals by Justin Torres (2011)
66. The Aspern Papers by Henry James (1888)
James’s portrayal of an anonymous narrator’s obsessive quest to acquire letters and documents once belonging to a deceased Romantic poet was based on the real-life correspondence between poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and his mistress, Claire Clairmont. James considered this novella one of his best works, and critics have praised the suspense and character development featured in this story.
65. Passing by Nella Larsen (1929)
64. All Systems Red by Martha Wells (2017)
The first installment in The Murderbot Diaries features a murderous android and a team of human scientists investigating a mysterious attack on a neighboring planetary mission. All Systems Red won the 2018 Nebula, Hugo and Alex Awards and was nominated for the 2017 Philip K. Dick Award for science fiction.
63. Dream Story by Arthur Schnitzler (1926)
62. The Gambler by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1866)
61. The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells (1897)
60. The Postman Always Rings Twice by James M. Cain (1934)
Cain’s story of a passionate love affair that turns to murder inspired Albert Camus’s The Stranger (#5 on this list), was adapted into several films (most notably the 1946 noir crime classic starring Lana Turner and John Garfield) and made Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels.
59. The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy (1889)
58. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (2015)
The first installment in the series of the same name follows a young Himba woman whose transport ship to a prestigious intergalactic university is hijacked by a hostile alien species. Binti won the 2016 Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella.
57. Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto (1988)
In this acclaimed Japanese author’s English-language debut, an orphaned girl is taken in by her friend and his transgender mother, and the three of them become an unlikely family that soon faces new tragedies.
56. McGlue by Ottessa Moshfegh (2014)
A nineteenth-century sailor wakes up chained down in the hold of his ship, accused of murdering his shipmate and friend in a drunken rage. McGlue won the inaugural Fence magazine Modern Prize in Prose.
55. The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing (1988)
54. Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? by Lorrie Moore (1994)
A middle-aged woman reflects on her adolescent summer working at an upstate New York amusement park with a friend.
53. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)
52. At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft (1931)
51. The Invention of Morel by Adolfo Bioy Casares (1940)
A fugitive hiding on a deserted island somewhere in Polynesia falls in love with a tourist in this novella praised as “perfect” by authors Jorge Luis Borges and Octavio Paz. The Invention of Morel won the 1941 First Municipal Prize for Literature of the City of Buenos Aires.
50. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966)
This unofficial prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre reimagines the marriage of Mr. Rochester and the Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway from Cosway’s point of view. Wide Sargasso Sea won the 1967 WH Smith Literary Award for British and Irish fiction and the 2006 Cheltenham Booker Prize for best English-language work published before the existence of the Booker Prize. It was also named to TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923 and Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels.
49. Shopgirl by Steve Martin (2000)
48. Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo (1955)
A man travels to his recently deceased mother’s hometown to search for his father, only to discover that the town is populated by ghosts. Pedro Páramo has been translated into more than thirty different languages and has influenced authors like Gabriel García Márquez and Jorge Luis Borges.
47. The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder (1927)
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning novella, a monk who witnesses five people die when a bridge collapses in Peru sets out to prove the tragedy was divine intervention rather than chance. The Bridge of San Luis Rey was the best-selling work of fiction in 1927 and made Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels.
46. Grief Is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter (2015)
A crow visits two boys and their father grieving the death of their mother and wife and threatens to stay until the family no longer needs him. Porter’s novella earned him the International Dylan Thomas Prize for best English work by an author thirty-nine or younger and the Sunday Times/Peter, Fraser + Dunlop Young Writer of the Year award.
45. The Ballad of the Sad Café by Carson McCullers (1951)
44. Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (1933)
43. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (2014)
42. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis (1945)
41. Point Omega by Don DeLillo (2010)
40. Coraline by Neil Gaiman (2002)
A young girl opens a locked door in her house to find a second house almost identical to her own, complete with a second mother and father who want her to stay with them. Coraline won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for Best Novella and the Bram Stoker Award for best dark fantasy and horror work for young readers.
39. Anthem by Ayn Rand (1938)
38. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean (1976)
37. The Vet’s Daughter by Barbara Comyns (1959)
36. White Nights by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1848)
35. The Fall by Albert Camus (1956)
34. Daisy Miller by Henry James (1878)
33. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle (2016)
In this winner of the Shirley Jackson Award for best dark fantasy and horror novella and a finalist for the Bram Stoker, Nebula, British Fantasy, Theodore Sturgeon, Hugo, and World Fantasy Awards, LaValle reimagines H.P. Lovecraft’s story “The Horror At Red Hook” from the perspective of a black musician facing racism, police brutality and cosmic horror.
32. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1774)
31. A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr (1980)
A World War I veteran and recent divorcé travels to a remote Yorkshire village to restore a medieval mural discovered in the local church. Carr’s novella won the Guardian Fiction Prize and was nominated for the Booker Prize.
30. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King (1982)
A banker imprisoned for killing his wife maintains his innocence in the face of corruption and brutality during his detention. King’s novella was adapted into the 1994 Academy Award-nominated film The Shawshank Redemption.
29. Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan (1954)
Published when Sagan was only eighteen, this story of the romantic liaisons and intrigues of a teenage girl and her father on the French Riviera became an overnight sensation and made Le Monde’s list of the 100 Books of the Century.
28. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (2007)
27. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1961)
An unorthodox teacher connects with six ten-year-old students, one of whom will ultimately betray her and destroy her career. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie made TIME magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels since 1923 and Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels.
26. Train Dreams by Denis Johnson (2002)
This tragic story of the life of an American railroad laborer won an O. Henry Award for short fiction and the Aga Khan Prize for the best short story published in The Paris Review and was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
25. The Lover by Marguerite Duras (1984)
Duras’s autobiographical novella about the secret romance between a French girl and an older, wealthy Chinese-Vietnamese man won the 1984 Prix Goncourt, awarded to “the best and most imaginative prose work of the year.”
24. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (1984)
This series of vignettes following a twelve-year-old Chicana girl growing up in a Hispanic neighborhood in Chicago won the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation for contemporary multicultural American literature.
20. The Pearl by John Steinbeck (1945)
19. The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)
18. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (1911)
17. Candide by Voltaire (1759)
A young man lives a sheltered life under the tutelage of his optimistic mentor and becomes disillusioned when he experiences hardships in the real world. Voltaire’s famous satire inspired many future authors and was listed by literary critic Martin Seymour-Smith as one of the 100 most influential books ever written.
16. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903)
15. Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Márquez (1981)
14. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells (1895)
13. Notes from the Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1864)
12. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse (1922)
11. Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1958)
10. The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886)
9. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899)
A ferry-boat captain travels up the Congo River in search of an ivory trader who has gone mad in this book that made Modern Library’s list of the 100 best novels and was adapted into the Academy Award-nominated film Apocalypse Now.
8. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
7. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (1843)
Dickens’s short tale of a miser visited by ghosts on Christmas Eve enjoys annual retellings and adaptations and popularized the phrases “Merry Christmas,” “Bah! Humbug!” and “Scrooge.”
6. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (1992)
This allegorical, autobiographical story about a young prince who visits various planets in space is the fourth most-translated book in the world and the best-selling single-volume book ever written.
5. The Stranger by Albert Camus (1943)
An amoral French settler kills an Arab man on a beach in Algiers in this novella that topped Le Monde’s list of the 100 Books of the Century.
4. The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka (1915)
3. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (1952)
Hemingway’s last major work of fiction published during his lifetime follows an aging Cuban fisherman trying to catch a giant marlin. The Old Man and the Sea received the 1953 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and contributed to Hemingway earning the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature.
2. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (1937)
Two migrant ranch workers search for new employment opportunities in California during the Great Depression. Though frequently taught in schools, Of Mice and Men also appears on the American Library Association’s list of the Most Challenged Books of the 21st Century due to complaints about vulgar content and racist language.
1. Animal Farm by George Orwell (1945)
Another book list, another top spot for Orwell (see The 110 Best Dystopian Novels). In this political satire, overworked farm animals organize and rebel against their human farmer, but their hope for an ideal society ends in a new dictatorship. Animal Farm won a Retrospective Hugo Award in 1996, ranked thirty-first on Modern Library’s list of best twentieth-century novels and was chosen by TIME as one of the 100 best novels from 1923 to 2005.
For more great stories, download a list of the best novellas and short fiction according to eight authors featured on this list and a one-page PDF shopping guide to The Best Novellas using the form below.