The best short books under 250 pages

From classic to contemporary, discover our favourite short books and novellas, guaranteed to stay with you long after the final page.

As rewarding as tackling an immersive epic can be, sometimes short novels that can be finished in a weekend linger with us the longest. 

So, we've curated our edit of the best short books and novellas. Each is under 250 pages, and while much easier to finish in our busy lives than a 600+ page tome, these short novels are still guaranteed to make a lasting impact.

If you're looking for even more inspiration for you TBR pile, discover our edit of the best literary fiction. 

A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth

by Henry Gee

Book cover for A (Very) Short History of Life On Earth

This lyrical and moving account takes us back to the early history of the earth, a wildly inhospitable place with swirling seas, constant volcanic eruptions and an unstable atmosphere. The triumph of life as it emerges, survives and evolves in this hostile setting is Henry Gee's riveting subject: he traces the story of life on earth from its turbulent beginnings to the emergence of early hominids and the miracle of the first creatures to fly. You'll never look at our planet in the same way again.


by Raven Leilani

Book cover for Luster

Raven Leilani is a funny and original new voice in literary fiction. Her razor-sharp yet surprisingly tender debut is an essential novel about what it means to be young now. Edie is messing up her life, and no one seems to care. Then she meets Eric, who is white, middle-aged and comes with a wife who has sort-of-agreed to an open marriage and an adopted black daughter who doesn’t have a single person in her life who can show her how to do her hair. And as if life wasn’t hard enough, Edie finds herself falling head-first into Eric’s family. 

The Most Precious of Cargoes

by Jean-Claude Grumberg

Book cover for The Most Precious of Cargoes

On a train crossing the forest, a Jewish father holds his twin children. His wife no longer has enough milk to feed them. In hopes of saving both their lives, he wraps his daughter in a shawl and gently throws her from the train.

Elsewhere in the enormous forest lives a young woman, who prays each night for a baby until one day, she finds a small bundle. . . 

Set against the horrors of the Holocaust and told with a fairytale-like lyricism, The Most Precious of Cargoes, is a deeply moving fable about family and redemption that is simply not to be missed.

The Cat Who Saved Books

by Sosuke Natsukawa

Book cover for The Cat Who Saved Books

Translated from Japanese by Louise Heal Kawai, this international bestseller is a heart-warming story about finding courage, caring for others – and the tremendous power of books (even short ones).

After the death of his grandfather, Rintaro is devastated and alone. It seems he will have to close Natsuki Books, the tiny second-hand bookshop his grandfather owned, a special place that has long been Rintaro's safe haven.

Then, a talking tabby cat called Tiger appears and asks Rintaro for help. The cat needs a book lover to join him on a mission. This odd couple will go on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. Finally, there is one last rescue that Rintaro must attempt alone . . .


by Sarah Moss

Book cover for Summerwater

This devastating novel from the acclaimed author of Ghost Wall is set over twenty-four hours as the guests of a faded Scottish cabin park wait out the rain on the longest day of the year. With little else to do, twelve people sit cooped up with their families, watching the other residents. Slowly, one family, a mother and daughter without the right clothes or the right manners, begin to draw attention and tensions begin to rise as tragedy looms. Summerwater is a searing exploration of our capacity for both kinship and cruelty and a literary must-read in these divided times.

Read Sarah Moss and her editor discussing  Summerwater, Brexit anxieties and the strangeness of holidays


by Thora Hjörleifsdóttir Translated by Meg Matich

Book cover for Magma

Twenty-year-old Lilja is in love. He is older and beautiful, a Derrida-quoting intellectual. He is also a serial cheater, gaslighter and narcissist. Lilja will do anything to hold on to him. And so she accepts his deceptions and endures his sexual desires. She rationalizes his toxic behaviour and permits him to cross all her boundaries. In her desperation to be the perfect lover, she finds herself unable to break free from the toxic cycle. And then an unexpected ultimatum: an all-consuming love, or the promise of a life reclaimed.

Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales From the Cafe

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Book cover for Before the Coffee Gets Cold: Tales  From the Cafe

This short book is another beautiful, simple tale about the time-travelling customers of the Cafe Funiculi Funicula from the author of Before the Coffee Gets Cold. Customers include a man who travels to see the girl he couldn’t marry, a son who had to miss his mother’s funeral and a man who travels back to see his friend who died twenty-two years ago.

The Silence

by Don DeLillo

Book cover for The Silence

This novella from one of America’s greatest literary fiction writers is an illuminating and essential guide to our navigation of a bewildering world. Set on Super Bowl Sunday 2022, this compelling novel about what happens when an unpredictable crisis strikes is a profoundly moving examination of what makes us human. A retired physics professor and her husband are hosting a dinner party. One of her former students has already arrived, but another couple has been delayed by a dramatic flight from Paris. As they wait for kick-off, something happens that severs the digital connections in all our lives.

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

by Christine Féret-Fleury

Book cover for The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

Juliette takes the métro to the job she hates each morning, her only escape the books she reads on her journey. But one day she gets off a few stops early, and meetds Soliman – the owner of the most enchanting bookshop Juliette has ever seen. And this encounter will change her life forever, because Soliman also believes in the power of books, and he has the perfect job for Juliette . . .  

Our Souls at Night

by Kent Haruf

Book cover for Our Souls at Night

The final novel from the acclaimed American author, about an elderly man and woman who come together to tackle their loneliness. A low-key, melancholy yet beautifully tender read about making the most of life.

Available now in paperback and ebook, this novel was adapted into a film starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. 


by Toni Morrison

Book cover for Sula

Toni Morrison's Sula is an essential book in the formation of black feminist literary criticism, tackling themes of womanhood, race, slavery and love.

Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

Book cover for Things Fall Apart

A classic from 1958 set in 1890s Nigeria, about the fight between colonialism and traditional societies. Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart is one of the first African novels to receive global critical acclaim.

The Vegetarian

by Han Kang

Book cover for The Vegetarian

Set in South Korea, this is the story of Yeong-hye and her decision to become a vegetarian and the shocking reaction that this ‘rebellion’ triggers in her family. A deserving winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2016.

The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Book cover for The Little Prince

One of the best-selling books of all time, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's novel tells the story of a pilot stranded in the Sahara and his strange encounter with a young boy from another world. Beautifully poetic with wonderful illustrations.

Available in hardback from the Macmillan Collector's Library, as well as in paperback and ebook formats. 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Book cover for One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

Covering a single day in the life of an ordinary prisoner in a 1950s Soviet labour camp, this short novel was described by the Sunday Times as ‘a blow struck for human freedom all over the world'.

Mrs Dalloway

by Virginia Woolf

Book cover for Mrs Dalloway

Bold and experimental, Virginia Woolf's story of one day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway, a fashionable, wealthy and accomplished hostess; and Septimus Warren Smith, a shellshocked survivor of the Great War, is a landmark in twentieth-century fiction. 

Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

by Lorrie Moore

Book cover for Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?

An exploration of adolescence and then middle age, as the narrator recalls her youth and experiences while growing up in New York.

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

by Max Porter

Book cover for Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

Winner of the 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize and one of the most highly acclaimed novels of recent times, Max Porter’s debut novel is an astonishing, and surprisingly humorous, study of a man and his two sons dealing with the loss of their mother

A Whole Life

by Robert Seethaler

Book cover for A Whole Life

Andreas is a simple man of few words, yet he lives an extraordinary life. At under 160 pages, Robert Seethaler's novel is a tender book about finding dignity and beauty in solitude.

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Book cover for The Great Gatsby

A book that surely needs little introduction, this is one of Fitzgerald’s greatest works, capturing the flamboyance, the carelessness and the cruelty of the wealthy during America's Jazz Age.

Available in hardback from the Macmillan Collector's Library, as well as in ebook format.

The Old Man and the Sea

by Ernest Hemingway

Book cover for The Old Man and the Sea

Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1953, this was Hemingway’s last major work of fiction to be published during his lifetime, and tells the story of an aging Cuban fisherman’s battle with a giant marlin.

Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

Book cover for Wide Sargasso Sea

Written as a prequel and postcolonial response to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, this explores the story of a Creole heiress, Antoinette, who is forced into an unhappy marriage with an unnamed English gentleman (implied to be Mr Rochester)

The Body Artist

by Don DeLillo

Book cover for The Body Artist

An elliptical meditation on the mysteries of love, life and time, this is a sad yet beautiful novel from America’s true masters of fiction, Don DeLillo. 

Available in paperback, ebook and audiobook formats. 

The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Book cover for The Yellow Wall-Paper and Other Stories

Confined to her attic bedroom and isolated from her newborn baby, the nameless narrator of The Yellow Wallpaper keeps a secret diary in which she records the sprawling and shifting patterns of the room’s lurid yellow wallpaper as she slowly sinks into madness. This chilling story is based on the author’s own experience of depression. In Herland, a trio of men set out to discover an all-female community rumoured to be hidden deep in the jungle. What they find surprises them all; they’re captured by women who, for two thousand years, have lived in a peaceful and prosperous utopia without men.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s progressive views on feminism and mental health are powerfully showcased in her two most famous stories. With both stories combined totalling just 240 pages, this MCL edition is a perfect short read.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

Book cover for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The first in the classic sci-fi comedy ‘trilogy of five’, introducing us to Arthur Dent and Adams’ unique universe. DON’T PANIC.

Available in paperback, as part of the Pan 70th Anniversary collection, and in ebook and audiobook formats.

Bonjour Tristesse

by Françoise Sagan

Book cover for Bonjour Tristesse

Bonjour Tristesse scandalised 1950s France with its portrayal of precocious teenager Cécile, a heroine who rejects conventional notions of love, marriage and responsibility to choose her own sexual freedom.

Wilful Disregard

by Lena Andersson

Book cover for Wilful Disregard

Highly praised by the likes of Lena Dunham and Alice Sebold, this is a compelling read about a poet leaving behind her sensible boyfriend for a renowned artist, a decision which causes her rational world to begin to unravel.

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

All This Has Nothing To Do With Me

by Monica Sabolo

Book cover for All This Has Nothing To Do With Me

MS interviews the mysterious XX for a job and hires him because she fancies him. As their relationship develops, and then collapses, MS lays bare her feelings in emails, text messages and photographs that show the tragedy and the comedy of her obsession. 

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

The Guest Cat

by Takashi Hiraide

Book cover for The Guest Cat

This charming novel about a cat that brings joy into a couple's life was a surprise bestseller around the world.

Available in paperback and ebook formats.

The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher

by Ahn Do-hyun

Book cover for The Salmon Who Dared to Leap Higher

Wise, tender and inspiring, this is the story of a salmon whose silver scales mark him out as different - who dares to leap beyond his fate. It's a story about growing up, and about aching and ardent love.

Available in paperback and ebook formats. 

The End We Start From

by Megan Hunter

Book cover for The End We Start From

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z's small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.