What is it about the novella that perplexes us so much? In the past nine-or-so months, while I’ve had the honour of calling myself a Viva La Novella 2015 editor, I’ve had to explain the concept of a novella numerous times.
More than a short story, and assumed to be less than a novel, the novella occupies a strange and murky space in our literary culture. No one seems quite sure of its status.
For me, the novella is the ultimate format for both readers and writers. As a writer, and having completed two novellas as a teenager (one of which was an award-winner and the other shortlisted for the Sommerset Celebration of Literature Prize in 2008 and 2004 respectively), the novella was the ideal format for me to trial long-form writing, to explore developing characters to the point where they can almost breathe off the page, and to train myself to write with discipline.
As a reader, the novella is the perfect length to capture and suspend me within a particular story, or a particular world, without running the risk of eventual fatigue or disengagement.
When selecting an entry to edit for Viva La Novella, I found myself dithering and unsure. I was worried that by choosing one novella I would miss out on the brilliance in the next. There was a huge diversity in submissions, with entries that grabbed me straight away, and some that I knew within the first page that I couldn’t read in entirety.
But I just kept coming back to Welcome to Orphancorp, and the gritty, dark world Marlee Jane Ward has created in this novella. From the first page, I was hooked on the brash, gutsy voice of protagonist Miriiyanaan, and her tentative grasp on freedom from the system that has owned her for almost her whole life.
This is not an entirely imaginary world – there are elements of the Australia in Orphancorp that I can see in the not too distant future, or that ring uncomfortably true in the present. The control and power of large multinational companies on our society, and the potential for a system of welfare that is actually based on capitalist interests is not beyond the realms of reality.
What Ward does offer to counteract this bleak vision, however, is hope in the form of Mirii – a character who is principled, honest, loyal, and ultimately optimistic.
Don’t be fooled by the young adult fiction categorisation of this novella – it will grab any reader, regardless of age or gender, and it will connect you to Mirii and her world within the first sentences.
Winner of the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Young Adult
Winner of the 2015 Viva La Novella Prize
A sharp-edged semi-futuristic riff about a rebellious teenager’s last week at an industrial orphanage.