I have a thing for epistolary-style books.
I’m not precisely sure why – perhaps it’s because I get to fill in the blanks, to read between the lines and figure out what’s left unsaid based on what has been written and what hasn’t. The text is personal in a way you normally only get from first-person POV, yet at the same time the story isn’t (usually) just from one person’s perspective. There are so many different ways the author gets to flesh out his or her characters – the salutations used, the medium, the style… they all add to the sheer fun of reading one of these books.
One of my all-time favourite books – and probably the first epistolary book I read back in my teens – is Jean Webster‘s DADDY-LONG-LEGS*. I remember when I first started the book, I was wondering when the letters from Jerusha (Judy) Abbott to her benefactor would end so that the real story could begin. I think I was halfway through when it suddenly clicked that this was the story… Anyway, Judy’s letters to her mysterious orphanage trustee were a lovely way to watch her develop from a cautious girl fresh from an enclosed orphanage environment to a young woman brimming with confidence – they were hilarious at times, beautifully poignant at others. The ending was wonderfully romantic to my teenage self – and still is.
ETA: DADDY-LONG-LEGS is available as a free public domain ebook in the US and possibly other countries depending on local copyright law.
What inspired this post, you ask? Reading Jaclyn Moriarty‘s FINDING CASSIE CRAZY (a.k.a THE YEAR OF SECRET ASSIGNMENTS in the US) last night and absolutely loving it. I know – I’m late to the party, aren’t I? This is my first Moriarty but certainly won’t be my last. Ms Moriarty first came to my attention in Ana’s 10/10 review of THE GHOSTS OF ASHBURY HIGH, followed by her “I love this series” post on the Ashbury/Brookfield books. I initially thought the former was a paranormal YA and thought “maybe later” … I was wrong!
One of the pitfalls of epistolary narratives is that it is difficult to write the ending – because the events have already taken place in the characters’ real lives, how do you write it without falling into the “As you know, Bob…” trap, yet ensuring your readers close the book satisfied? Ms Moriarty did it by providing one of the most satisfying transcripts ever – I was mentally cheering on Em and Lydia and Cassie over the concluding pages of the book.
I’ve also loved Steve Kluger‘s ALMOST LIKE BEING IN LOVE and MY MOST EXCELLENT YEAR (both rec’d by Nath and definitely living up to her glowing reviews), which are told through a very varied mix of emails, diary entries, lists, posters and oh, all sorts of other media. And one of my favourite series, Lisa Lutz‘s Spellman books, is partly in epistolary format, this time in the form of interview transcripts and lists.
I also have to mention Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevermer‘s wonderful SORCERY AND CECELIA – OR THE ENCHANTED CHOCOLATE POT, which unfolds in the form of correspondence between the Cecilia of the title and her best friend Kate, and set in an alternate Regency England. There are also two sequels, but my favourite remains the first – a perfect blend of magic, friendship, adventure, and romance.
Finally, I was racking my brains trying to think of more examples (drawing a blank, unfortunately) and idly wondered how an urban fantasy would translate – and then I realised Ilona Andrews had posted an example on her blog. If only!
What do you think of epistolary novels? Like them? Hate them? And oh, any recommendations most welcome.
*Although I am more on the fence about its sequel DEAR ENEMY, which falls into the “very much a product of its time” bucket.