A new study from publishing platform FlipSnack has shown that the average novel has increased in length by 25% in the last 15 years. The research, which took into account over 2,500 books, revealed that the average number of pages was up from 320 in 1999 to 407 in 2014.
For non-native speakers of English, it could be a struggle to read Marlon James’s epic 704-page A Brief History of Seven Killings, for example. But luckily there are many classic English novels that are short enough to read in a weekend.
Below are five of our favourites. All of them are highly influential and should provide a good introduction to English literature. The page counts are taken from the Kindle editions.
1. Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck (116 pages)
Steinbeck’s classic novel follows two migrant ranch workers as they look for work during the Great Depression. While having all the scope of a proper novel, it’s very short and uses clear, simple language (although the dialogue between characters can sometimes be a challenge). It’s a great introduction to Steinbeck’s work and gives a fascinating glimpse of life and social relations during the Great Depression.
2. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle (125 pages)
Holmes will already be comfortably familiar to anyone that’s watched the BBC’s Sherlock or CBS’s Elementary. Of Conan Doyle’s four novels, The Hound of The Baskervilles is his best known, and also the shortest at only 59,000 words. This was popular fiction in its day and was written for a wide audience. As such, it should be easy for most readers to understand.
3. Animal Farm, George Orwell (154 pages)
Orwell’s important allegorical novel reimagines Communist Russia as a farmyard, with the animals eventually forming a hierarchy and ending with the statement, “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” Orwell valued clarity and straightforwardness in his prose (see his 5 rules for effective writing) and his writing style is very accessible. If you get on well with this, you could try his equally influential Nineteen Eighty-Four.
4. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens (112 pages)
In this seasonal tale of good will, Dickens helped usher in Christmas as we celebrate it today. The story follows the miserly businessman Ebenezer Scrooge as three spirits take him on a tour of Victorian London, past, present and future. Despite its old-fashioned prose, the familiarity of the story makes A Christmas Carol easy to read. And at only 29,000 words, it’s less than a tenth of the length of David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby or The Pickwick Papers.
5. The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway (88 pages)
This short novel about a Cuban fisherman trying to catch a giant marlin is one of Hemingway’s best known and won him the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1953. He writes in short, straightforward sentences and manages to tell the story in only 88 pages. The Old Man and the Sea is often read in schools and is a great introduction to Hemingway’s work.