Any novel under 70,000 words tends to get called a novella, which I think is a misnomer. The true novella – say, 15,000 to 40,000 words – is a rare beast; publishers won’t tend to touch it, despite the fact it has the reading time roughly equivalent to watching a film. Kudos, then, to Ginninderra Press, an independent Adelaide-based publisher, who have published a true novella in The Choir of Gravediggers, 48 pages long, by my friend, the Western Australian Mel Hall.
The Choir of Gravediggers has a frame narrative – a kind of biographical quest – as the narrator looks through the documents and photos that remain of her flamboyant father, Charles Truelove, who ran the St Kilda Cemetery and a choir at the turn of the twentieth century before being plagued by scandals and disappearing. Choir has a zany, engaging narrative voice, by turns poetic, inquisitive, elegiac. Mel’s historical research is worn lightly, making the narrative sparkle with authentic detail as she evokes historical Melbourne. Choir compresses a big story into a small book. This reader would always rather a book which leaves too soon than one which stays too long, though it might be that this is one narrative suited to a 300 page novel. (As a defender of the novella form, I do hate to say this!) An afterword reveals the strong historical basis for the work – Charles Truelove was a historical figure; indeed, he was Mel’s great-great grandfather.