Day’s In: Novels With Very Short Time Spans

Several weeks ago, I wrote a post about novels with long time spans. Today’s column will cover novels with short time spans — in most cases, no more than a day. Yet a lot of drama can be crammed into that brief period, often with the help of some back story interspersed among the day’s depiction.

Two of the more famous examples of novels limited to a 24-hour time period are James Joyce’s Ulysses and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Unfortunately, I’ve read neither (though I did see the latter’s movie version), so there’s not much I can say about them.

I have read Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and that compelling novel packs a lot in one day. Clarissa Dalloway prepares for a party, muses about her past and her life’s choices, and then holds the party — whose attendees include some people from that referenced past. Meanwhile, the novel also focuses on the doings of shell-shocked World War I veteran Septimus Smith. Obviously, Mrs. Dalloway covers a number of years within a day’s framework. (Virginia Woolf is pictured atop this blog post.)

It’s not a coincidence that the title of Saul Bellow’s Seize the Day reflects how that novel is another less-than-24-hour-time-span book. But, again, we learn a lot about the life of the title character — in this case, Wilhelm Adler, a failed 40-something actor separated from his wife and estranged from his children and father.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a very famous novel, but readers don’t always remember that the book unspools during a very short period — from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day. Enough time for miserly businessman Ebenezer Scrooge to be transformed with the help of some ghostly visits.

Then we have Haruki Murakami’s After Dark, which is set in Tokyo over the course of a single night. It stars 19-year-old student Mari Asai (who we first see reading in a restaurant) and other characters she meets.

And Lee Child’s 61 Hours takes place over (surprise, surprise) a bit more than two-and-a-half days — with lots of intrigue and mayhem during Jack Reacher’s brief stay in snowy and bitterly cold South Dakota.

Short stories of course often focus on a relatively brief period. One particularly memorable one is Kate Chopin’s “The Story of an Hour,” in which Louise Mallard feels liberated when her husband dies, happily envisions life without him, and then…

What are your favorite fictional works with short time spans?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for The latest weekly piece — partly about my town’s high school students joining the global walkout to draw attention to climate change — is here.