The best short books and novellas 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. 

The best short novels

Whale Fall

by Elizabeth O'Connor

Book cover for Whale Fall

Set on a remote and unforgiving island off the coast of Wales, Whale Fall is the story of Manod, a young woman with dreams of a life different from the one she is destined for. With war on the horizon, a move to the mainland seems unlikely, until two anthropologists arrive to study the island’s unique way of life. Manod hatches a plan to befriend them and secure a passage to a new future. At 224 pages, Elizabeth O’Connor’s haunting and highly anticipated debut novel is a read you can enjoy in one sitting.

Western Lane

by Chetna Maroo

Book cover for Western Lane

Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2023

Short books can be just as profound and moving as a tome, as Chetna Maroo's Booker-winning debut proves. Exploring themes of grief and sisterhood, this debut coming-of-age story packs all the feels into just 176 pages. Eleven-year-old Gopi has been playing squash for as long as she can remember. When her mother dies, her father enlists her in a brutal training regimen and soon, the game has become her entire world, causing a rift between Gopi and her sisters. But on the court, governed by the rhythms of the sport, she feels alive; the serve, the volley, the drive, the shot and its echo. This novel beautifully captures the ordinary as we follow a young athlete's struggle to transcend herself. 

Stella Maris

by Cormac McCarthy

Book cover for Stella Maris

Stella Maris is the story of a mathematician, twenty years old, admitted to the hospital with forty thousand dollars in a plastic bag and one request: she does not want to talk about her brother. Heralded by the Guardian as ‘one of the greatest American novels of this or any other time’, Stella Maris is the must-read companion novel to The Passenger. Though they can be read separately, together, the two novels tell one grand story of siblings Bobby and Alicia Western. While The Passenger is a little longer, Stella Maris comes in at just 192 pages, making it the perfect short read to curl up with. 

Before the Coffee Gets Cold

by Toshikazu Kawaguchi

Book cover for Before the Coffee Gets Cold

In a small back alley in Tokyo, there is a café which has been serving carefully brewed coffee for more than one hundred years. But this coffee shop offers its customers a unique experience: the chance to travel back in time. But this opportunity is not without risks: customers must sit in a particular seat, they cannot leave the café, and finally, they must return to the present before the coffee gets cold . . . Toshikazu Kawaguchi’s beautiful novel stole the hearts of readers the world over. Through it, we meet four visitors to the café and explore the age-old question: what would you change if you could travel back in time?

Five Tuesdays in Winter

by Lily King

Book cover for Five Tuesdays in Winter

With Writers & Lovers, Lily King became one of our most acclaimed writers of contemporary fiction. And now, with Five Tuesdays in Winter, she gathers ten of her best short stories. These intimate literary stories tell of a bookseller who is filled with unspoken love for his employee, an abandoned teenage boy nurtured by a pair of housesitting students and a girl whose loss of innocence brings confident power. Romantic, hopeful, raw and occasionally surreal, these stories riff beautifully on the topic of love and romance.


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.

All the Lovers in the Night

by Mieko Kawakami

Book cover for All the Lovers in the Night

Freelancer proofreader Fuyuko is shy and solitary. About to turn thirty-five, she is haunted by her past encounters, and is unable to even imagine a successful relationship. But she has one friend, Hijiri, and she loves the light. On Christmas Eve, the night of her birthday, Fuyuko leaves her home to count the lights, and an encounter with physics teacher Mr. Mitsutsuka opens up another dimension. Poetic, pulsing and unexpected, this is the third novel by internationally bestselling writer Mieko Kawakami.

Compact and supple, it’s a strikingly intelligent feat.
The New York Times on All the Lovers in the NIght

Of Women and Salt

by Gabriela Garcia

Book cover for Of Women and Salt

A New York Times bestseller, Of Women and Salt tells the story of five generations of fierce Latina women, linked by blood and circumstance. From nineteenth-century cigar factories to present-day detention centres, this novel is a haunting meditation on the choices of mothers and the tenacity of women who choose to tell their truth despite those who wish to silence them. 

The Cat Who Saved Books

by Sosuke Natsukawa

Book cover for The Cat Who Saved Books

Translated 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. It seems he will have to close Natsuki Books, the tiny second-hand bookshop his grandfather owned which 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. Together, they embark on three magical adventures to save books from people who have imprisoned, mistreated and betrayed them. 


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.


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 and the sequel to the bestselling 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. This beautiful, simple tale tells the story of people who must face up to their past, in order to move on with their lives.

The Silence

by Don DeLillo

Book cover for The Silence

This novella from one of America’s greatest literary fiction writers, Don DeLillo, 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.

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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 . . .  

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. 

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 diary in which she records the shifting patterns of the room’s lurid yellow wallpaper. In Herland, a trio of men set out to discover an all-female community rumoured to be hidden deep in the jungle. There, they’re captured by women who have lived in a peaceful and prosperous utopia without men. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s progressive views on feminism and mental health are showcased in her two most famous stories. With both stories totalling just 240 pages, this MCL edition is a perfect short read.

Our Souls at Night

Book cover for Our Souls at Night

Adapted into a major film starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, Our Souls at Night is the final novel from the acclaimed American author, Kent Haruf. Addie Moore and Louis Waters have been neighbours for years. Now they both live alone, their houses empty of family, their quiet nights solitary. Then one evening Addie pays Louis a visit, and their lives change forever. This short, romantic novel is a story about growing old with grace and bravery.

Simple, low-key and absolutely beautiful.
The Times on Our Souls at Night

The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Book cover for The Little Prince

First published in 1943, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry has been translated into more than 250 languages, becoming one of the best-selling books of all time. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's short novel tells the story of a pilot stranded in the Sahara and his strange encounter with a young boy from another world, whose curiosity takes them on their journey together. Soon the pilot is able to piece together an understanding of the tiny planet from which the prince has come and of his incredible travels across the universe.

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. Jay Gatsby lives mysteriously in a Long Island mansion, and while people clamour for invitations to his lavish parties, no one seems to know him or how he became so rich. But Jay Gatsby cares for one person alone - Daisy Buchanan, the woman he has waited for all his life. Little does he know that his infatuation will lead to tragedy and end in murder.


by Toni Morrison

Book cover for Sula

First published in 1973, Toni Morrison's Sula is an essential book in the formation of black feminist literary criticism, tackling themes of womanhood, race, slavery and love. Having grown up together in a poor but close-knit community, Nel and Sula are inseparable, until adulthood takes them on different paths. Nel stays in town to raise a family, but Sula escapes to the progressive ideals of the big city. When Sula returns ten years later, the two friends must confront their differences and an awful secret they shared as children. 

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

by Douglas Adams

Book cover for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy began life as a Radio 4 show in 1978 and has since spawned adaptations across almost every format, making it a staple on every respectable list of the best sci-fi books. Following the galactic adventures of Arthur Dent after his house's untimely demolition to make way for a new hyperspace express route, this new edition of 'the Guide' features exclusive bonus archive material and a new introduction from Russell T. Davies.

Our Wives Under The Sea

by Julia Armfield

Book cover for Our Wives Under The Sea

Leah is back from a perilous and troubling deep-sea mission, and Miri is delighted to have her wife home. To have the woman she loves back should mean a return to normality, but Miri can feel Leah slipping from her grasp. Leah has carried the trauma of events that took place on the ocean floor into the couple's domestic life, and Miri soon realizes that the life that they once knew, might be gone. The debut novel from the author of acclaimed short story collection salt slow, Our Wives Under The Sea is a rich meditation on love, loss and the mysteries of the ocean.

Very Cold People

Book cover for Very Cold People

No one is watching Ruth, but she watches everyone and everything. Growing up on the outskirts of a wealthy but threadbare town, on the outer edge of popularity, she doesn’t necessarily understand what she is seeing, but she records the unfurling of her awkward youth, under even more awkward parenting. As they mock, ignore, undermine and discount their daughter, Ruth’s parents present now as damaged, inadequate, even monstrous. All the while the Future comes towards them, steadily, and for some of them, fatally. And the fog of the Past and the abuses committed under it gathers, swirls, settles, and intermittently clears. A short but dazzling book that will immobilize and transfix you.

Concerning My Daughter

by Kim Hye-jin

Book cover for Concerning My Daughter

In this prize-winning, internationally bestselling short novel, a mother lets her thirty-something daughter – Green – move into her apartment, with dreams that she will find a good job and a good husband to start a family with. But when Green arrives with her girlfriend Lane, her mother finds it hard to be civil. Yet Green's mother has her own moral battle to fight when the care home where she works insists that she lower her standard of care for an elderly dementia patient who chose not to lead a conventional life, and she finds herself asking the question: why should not having chosen a traditional life mean that your life is worth nothing at all? Translated from Korean by Jamie Chang, this is a universal tale about ageing, prejudice and love.

Acts of Infidelity

by Lena Andersson

Book cover for Acts of Infidelity

Actor Olof Sten makes no secret of being married, but when meets Ester Nilsson, she falls madly in love with him. As they start to meet regularly and begin to conduct a strange dance of courtship, Olof insists he doesn't plan to leave his wife, but he doesn't object to this new situation either . . . it’s far too much fun. Ester, on the other hand, is convinced that things might change. To read Acts of Infidelity is to dive inside the mind of a brilliant, infuriating friend. Cutting, often cruel, and written with razor-sharp humour, Acts of Infidelity is painful, maddening, but most of all perfectly, precisely true.

Mrs Dalloway

by Virginia Woolf

Book cover for Mrs Dalloway

On a perfect June morning, Clarissa Dalloway sets off to buy flowers for the party she will host that evening. She is preoccupied with thoughts of the present and memories of the past, and from her interior monologue emerge the people who have touched her life. On the same day, Septimus Warren Smith, a shell-shocked survivor of the Great War, commits suicide, and casual mention of his death at the party provokes in Clarissa thoughts of her own isolation. Bold and experimental, Virginia Woolf's story of one day in the lives of Clarissa Dalloway and Septimus Warren Smith is a landmark in twentieth-century fiction. 

The best short non-fiction books

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.

Scary Smart

by Mo Gawdat

Book cover for Scary Smart

In Scary Smart, The former chief business officer of Google outlines how artificial intelligence is predicted to be a billion times more intelligent than humans by 2049. Free from distractions and working at incredible speeds, AI can look into the future and make informed predictions, looking around corners both real and virtual. But AI also gets so much wrong. Mo Gawdat, drawing on his unparalleled expertise in the field, outlines how and why we must alter the terrifying trajectory of AI development and teach ourselves and our machines to live better. 

Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

by Lisa Feldman Barrett

Book cover for Seven and a Half Lessons About the Brain

In seven short essays about that big grey blob between your ears, neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett explores the origins and structure of the brain, as well as shelving popular myths about the alleged battle between thoughts and emotions, or between nature and nurture. Sure to intrigue casual readers and scientific veterans alike, the book is full of surprises, humour and revelations about human nature.

Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

by Mary Seacole

Book cover for Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands

Mary Seacole was a fiercely independent self-funded entrepreneur from Jamaica. A trained nurse, she was desperate to offer help during the Crimean War, but was denied work by officials and by Florence Nightingale. Mary knew what she wanted to achieve and wouldn’t let anything stand in her way, so she set up her famous hotel for British soldiers, offering respite from the front line. Wonderful Adventures of Mrs Seacole in Many Lands is her gutsy autobiography.

The Happiest Man on Earth

by Eddie Jaku

Book cover for The Happiest Man on Earth

This heartbreaking yet hopeful memoir shows us how happiness can be found even in the darkest of times. In November 1938, Eddie Jaku was beaten, arrested and taken to a German concentration camp. He endured unimaginable horrors for the next seven years and lost family, friends and his country.  But he survived. And because he survived, he vowed to smile every day. He went on to believe himself to be the ‘happiest man on earth’. This is his story.