Kundalatha published in 1887, is considered to be the first Malayalam novel. Even before that Malayalam translations of English works were becoming popular. The second Malayalam novel was Indulekha (1889) which has taken an English novel as its model. Indulekha was a strong critique of the existing social situation of the time. It was an attack against the Namboodiri community which was steeped in conservatism. The author has attacked the feudal lordship, and the Namboodiri-Nair marriage pact called Sambandham which was prevalent during those times.
The second novel of Chandu Menon was Sarada, which was published in 1892. Due to his death in 1899, Chandu Menon was not able to complete the second part of Sarada.
In 1891, C.V. Raman Pillai published his novel Marthanda Varma. It was followed by his other works, namely, Dharma Raja (1913), and Rama Raja Bahadur (2vols.) (1917-1920). C.V. in his novels portrays a time when Kerala was ruled by the princes and the nairs. Marthanda Varma has in it both history and romance. C.V.’s language was highly dramatic and intense that still it is considered to be a unique contribution in the annals of Kerala’s literary history. C.V., thus was the person who paved the way for the historical novel.
Paarappuram by Kurukkal was the first political novel and Bhaskara Menon (1904) by Appan Thampuran was the first detective novel.
Appan Thampuran’s novel Bhuta Rayar (1923) is a portrayal of Kerala in the second century. The narration is very attractive. Kerala Simham (1941) by K.M.Panikkar has an epic quality about it.
The first Malayalam novel that dealt with the socially backward classes was Saraswathy Vijayam by Kunjambu in 1892. Novels on Christian life were written by Kochuthomman (1892), and Kocheeppan Tharakan. Latter Ponjikkara Rafi wrote Papikal in 1949. Kochu Thresia (1964) by Joseph Mattom, also belong to this group.
The late forties was the time of “Progressive literature” in Kerala. Vaikkom Muhammad Basheer with his unique style and rare humour wrote works portraying the Muslim community. Basheer’s Baalyakaala sakhi (Playmate of childhood) is a brilliant exposure of the fate of two young lovers. The passages in this novel are exquisite. Yet, another work of Basheer which has won international acclaim is ‘Ntuppaappaakkoraanendaarunnu’ (Me Grandad ‘ad an elephant) (1951). The novel deals with the disparity that existed between the orthodox Muslims, and the progressive Muslims.
During this time feudalism was the cause of social distancing, and many other social ills in different communities. M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s (1933) Naalukettu picturizes the feudalship and its associated struggles. His yet another novel Asuravittu (Dragon seed) also has as its theme, the conflicts and problems of a Nair Family. Malayattoor Ramakrishnan was popular through his Verukal (roots) and Yantrom (machine).
Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai’s Rantitangazhi (Two measures of paddy) focuses on the lower community. His description and picturisation have a real life force which is appreciable. His another work Chemmeen (shrimps), is a story of the fishermen community of Purakkad in Kuttanad. The theme is an intense love story, but tuffeted around the theme we see a whole world of human emotions of love and hatred. Moreover, the work reveals the tradition bound society of the fisherfolk which stick on stubbornly to their values and beliefs. Yet another work of Thakazhi is Thottiyute Makan (Scavenger’s son) which deals with the life of the scavengers of Alleppey.
Kesava Dev, another noted writer of the time, wrote otayilninnu (from the gutter) in 1942. He has written other works too, but otayil ninnu is the most important one.
Karur Neelakanda pillai was known for his short stories like Bhrityan (Male-servant), Makan (son), Potichoru (rice-packet) and Velakkaari (maid servant). He has not written novels.
S. K.Pottakkat is an author of renown, whose work Oru Desattinte Katha (story of a land) fetched him the gyaanapiith award. He has written short stories and travelogues. His other works include Stri (woman), Muutupatam (veil), Oru teruvinte Katha (story of a street).
Uroob (P.C. Kuttikrishnan ) was a writer whose simple prose and rustic themes attracted readers. He has novels, short stories and plays which have been acclaimed. His works include novels like Ummaachu, Sundarikalum Sundaranmaarum (beautiful women and handsome men) and Mintaappennu (non-talking girl). His famous stories are Raachiyamma and Velutta Kutti (fair child). His important play is Ti konttu Kaliykkarutu (don’t play with fire).
M. T. Vasudevan Nair, whose two works have been mentioned earlier is a narrator with exceptional skill. His important short stories include Eruttinte aatmaavu (soul of darkness), Kuttyetatti and Vaanaprastham. He has won the gyaanapiith award.
Thikkotian is an author who is known for his plays and humorous poems. His autobiography Arangu Kaanaatta natan (The actor who didn’t see the stage) makes interesting reading. Cherukaatu is another writer who also has written short stories, humorous poems and plays. He has written his autobiography called Jivitappaata (Life- path).
Muttathu Varkey is the author who popularized the romance movement in the history of Malayalam novel. His works paralleled the Mills and Boon romances, popular in English. Varkey’s setting was some village in central Kerala, where the plot unfolds to its romantic heights. His main novels are Paataatta painkili (The bird that does not sing), and Mayilaatum Kunnu (The hill on which the peacock dances).
N.P.Muhammed is an author whose many novels unfold the cultural intricacies of the Muslim community of Malabar. His important novels are Ennappaatam and Deivattinte Kannu (God’s eyes). He has written a novel along with M.T.Vasudevan Nair. Its name is Arabiponnu (Arabian gold).
Kovilan and Nandanar are known for their short stories which portray the trials and travails in the life of a soldier. Nandanar has also a work called Unnikuttante lokam (The world of Unnikuttan), which beautifully narrates a story in the perspective of a small boy. Another author Parappurattu has also focused his themes on military life. His important novels are Ninamaninja kaalpaatukal (foot prints of blood) and Aranaazhikaneram.
Rajalekshmi was a woman novelist who faced an untimely death. Her works include Oru Vazhiyum Kure nizhalukalum (One way and many shadows) and Njaanenna bhaavam (ego).
T. Padmanabhan, one of the most important story writers of modern times has written a number of short stories, which have a special beauty. His main stories are Prakaasam parattunna oru penkutti (A girl who spreads light) and Gauri.
During this time, there were a number of authors like Vettoor Raman Nair, K.M. Kovoor and Nagavally R.S.Kurup, whose works were popular and acclaimed.
Lalithambika Antharjanam was born in the Namboodiri community which was shifted in orthodoxy. Prior to this, during the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, some women and men in Namboodiri community were breaking the rigid shackles of conventionalism in the community, that caused shocking social practices to exist. In the attempt at social revolution authors like V.T.Bhattathiripad (V.T), M.R. Bhattathiripad (M R B) and M.P.Bhattathiripad (MP) wrote works which focused on the existing malpratices prevalent in the community. V.T.’s play Attukkalayil ninnu arangatteykku (from kitchen to stage) was a famous work belonging to this category. His autobiographical work Kannirum Kinaavum (Tears and dreams) also needs special mention. M.R.B. has written a skit called Marakkutaykkullile mahaanarakam (The big hell within the umbralla veil) and many other short stories. His simple travelogues also are very attractive M.P.’s main work known as Ritumati (Girl who has attained puberly) also exposes the picture of a convention – ridden community. Moothirigode Bhavathrathan Namboodiripad has through his works expressed the intense anguish of the community, to be set free. His main novel is Apphante makal (father’s younger brother’s daughter). It was in this social background that Lalithambika Antherjanam set her works. Her most important work Agnisaakshi (fire witness) reflects the conflicts between the convention – ridden, and the progressive elements in the community. Her other works are Kotumkattil petta oru ila (a leaf caught in a typhoon) and maanikyan. Antharjanam’s son N.Mohanan is also known for his adeptness in story telling.
K. Saraswati Amma is another woman writer, who portrayed the woman in the man’s world. Her works were intensely liberation – oriented and portrays the innate strength of the woman. Her important works are the short stories Cholamarangal (shady trees) and Orukkattinte otuvil (At the end of the preparation).
K. Surendren is an author who delves deep into the complexities of the human mind. His famous works are Taalam (rhythm),and Kaattukurangu (forest – monkey). G.Vivekanadan is another author who portrays the society in his works. Kallu (Toddy) is his important work. E.Vasu is an author who gives a description of the drudgery of the government servants, in his novel Chuvappu Naata (Red tape). K.T. Muhammed has written a number of novels of which the most important is Itu bhumiyaanu (This is earth).
Madhavikutty (Also known as Kamala Das and at present as Kamala Surayya) has a unique place in the history of Malayalam literature. Her diction, presented with an extraordinary simplicity makes her works attractive and readable. She has a special way of exposing the bitter truths of life in a stunningly simple manner. She is a versatile writer, fluent in both Malayalam and English. Her important works are the autobiographical work Ente Katha (My story), and the short stories Puzha vintum ozhuki (the rever flowed again), Ammu, Driksaakshi (eye witness) and Pakkshiyute manam (smell of the bird).
O.V. Vijayan brought forth a revolution in Malayalam fiction, by his true exposition portrayed in the novel Khasaakinte Itihaasam (the legend of the Khasak). All his works are deeply philosophical and many a time mystical. His other main works are Gurusaagaram (the ocean of Guru), Dharmapuraanam (the saga of Dharmapuri) and Thalamurakal (generations). He has written short stories too of which Oru yudhattinte aarambham (beginning of a war), Appukkili and Irinjaalakuda are important.
C. Radhakrishnan is a scientist, turned into an author. His important works are Mumpe parakkunna pakshikal (birds that are flying ahead), Puzha mutal puzha vare (from river to river) and Pullippulikalum Vellinakshtrangalum (spotted tigers and silver stars).
Vilasini (M.K.Menon) has to his credit the largest novel in Malayalam. This novel, Avakaasikal (interitors) has as its plot, the wide canvas of an extended family settled in Malaysia. His other important novels are unjaal (swing) and Inaangaatta kannikal (incompatible links).
M. Mukundan is an author who has written works set in the milieu Mahe, the French occupied province in Kerala. Two such works are Mayyazhipuzhayute tiirangalil (In the banks of the Mayyazhi river) and Deivattinte Vikritikal (God’s pranks). Another important novel written by Mukundan is Keshavante Vilaapangal (Keahavan’s laments). His short stories include 1981, and Haridvaril Mani Muzhangumbol (When the bell tolls in Haridwar).
M.P. Narayana Pillai through his novel Parinaamam (change) brilliantly exposes the set-values in a society. He has written short stories too.
V.K.N. is an eminent Malayalam author whose sense of humour is second to none. He has paved the way to a unique humour literature in Malayalam. With the efficient strategy of language manipulation, he reveals a world so different from the ordinary one. He ridicules the hyphocracies of the world thus producing peals of laughter. The main element found in his works is satire of the highest form. His important character is payyan which is a caricature of himself. His main works are Vivaahappittennu (the day after marriage), Pitaamahan (paternal grandfather), Arohanam (ascent), Payyans and Chaatham.
The present generation has got a number of gifted people like Sarah Joseph. Her works are essentially liberalistic, and have always been powerful enough to convey the pathetic of any suppressed group. Her novel Alaahayute penmakkal (Daughters of Alaaha) reveals wonderfully the protagonist Annie’s world of fantasy. Sarah Joseph has written many other short stories too. Anand is an author who writes novels and short stories, depicting the ultimate pain of life. His main works are Marubhumikal Untakunnatu (Origin of deserts) , Araamate viral (sixth finger) and Naalaamate ani (fourthnail).
Some of the other important authors of contemporary Malayalam fiction are Zachariah, N.S. Madhavan, Gracy, T.V. Kochubava, K.B. Sreedevi, Valsala, Sara Thomas, B.M. Suhra, Geetha Hiranyan, Rosemary, A.S. Priya, K.L.Mohanavarma, Punattil Kunhabdulla, Ashtamurthy, K.P.Ramanunni, Mundur Krishnankutty and C.R. Parameswaran each of whom, with his/her unique approach and style has contributed to the growth of the Malayalam Novel and short story. Still there are others like Asokan Charuvil,Vaisakhan, Sathrughnen, Unnikrishnan Tiruvazhiyodu, Mundur Sethumadhavan, Sethu, Reghunathan, Aravindakshan and C.V. Balakrishnan who have their unique diction.