Epistolary = Love

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.

18 thoughts on “Epistolary = Love

  1. Well, I love the style. Li, if you haven’t read Last Days of Summer by Kluger, you should probably try it. It’s also excellent. And, Ilona Andrews? That would be quite interesting. ;P

    • Oh, thanks for that – I keep meaning to track down a copy of Last Days of Summer, but it’s OOP here – I’m glad to hear it’ll be worth it! And a Kate/Curran story in this format could be rather hilarious.

  2. Hmmmm, epistolary is not a style that I actively seek… but I find that with the right authors and right stories, I do enjoy it. I like things said and explicitly said, so the reading in between the lines is harder for me. Plus, a lot of time, in epistolary, you don’t see the act, just the hear-say. However, I have enjoyed books with this style – hey, I even recommended some to you, woohoo! I think something in between for me, such as the Steve Kluger books where it’s half epistolary and half narration is more suit for me than straight epistolary. Does that make sense? However, I think now, there are a few books I’m going to be looking out for 😛

      • It would be worth it to buy in print if the original author drawings are still in there. Those are so lovely. I’m not sure if you get those in the PD ebook versions.

      • FYI, have downloaded a few free versions of Daddy Longlegs & none of them had the drawings. I finally bought a copy, because the book just isn’t the same without those drawings.

  3. I have to say that Daddy Long-Legs is the only epistolary book I really like. I have read Sorcery and Cecilia and while I usually like Patricia Wrede, it just didn’t do much for me. Oh well.

    • I just re-read Daddy-Long-Legs actually, and was completely won over again by the story. LOVE. Judy finding her feet. Her totally can-do attitude. The “coincidences” which so obviously aren’t in hindsight. Ahhhh…

      And funnily enough, I think Sorcery & Cecelia is the only Wrede book that sticks in my memory. I’ve read a couple of others by her, and while I liked them well enough, they’ve not left any lingering impression. I haven’t yet read her most recent one though (Thirteenth Child?) – have been meaning to look it up at some point.

      • I got shied away from Thirteenth Child because so many of my POC LJ friends are upset that the Native Americans were imagined away. There are other good books that I can read ^^ and she’s not one of my auto-buy authors.

        I very much liked her … Lyra-books when I read them in my 20s and I have a very soft spot for the duology that they’ve re-released as a single book and which started with Mairelon the Magician.

      • I remember Thirteenth Child being controversial, but wasn’t aware of the exact reason – will have to go and find some links.

        I think it’s the Mairelon books I’ve read, I’ve seen the re-released omnibus and they have done it up rather nicely!

  4. I got a weakness for epistolary novels as well. Some more recs:

    way back in another century I loved Freedom and Necessity. Not sure if I would still love it as much now, I don´t love either Brust or Bull´s novels the same way now.

    Try 84 Charing Cross Road if you have not before – not quite a novel, but so much fun.

    I avoided reading The Guernsey Literary Peel and Potato Society for ages, because it just sounded like something *tacky*, but it is part epistolary and loved it just the same.

    I guess I would call it male chick lit , but I remember loving E by Matt Beaumont.

    • Thanks for the recs! I’ve never read anything by Brust or Bull before, but Freedom & Necessity looks good. And male chick lit totally has me curious – I’ll have to look up these two.

      I forgot about The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society – I read it last year and loved as well! Like you, I was somewhat put off by the hype, but well, totally deserving. I also read 84 Charing Cross Road last year and loved the London it depicted.

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  6. Daddy long legs, for sure. Even the movie was great, with Fred Astaire, but I have to say the Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, oh that book. I bought the book on CD and listened to it for 9 hours on a trip while I drove alone and people driving next to me must have thought me a lunatic, I laughed and I cried and I just loved it. The readers were amazing (Juliet Mills was one) It was great that there were 5 or 6 different readers so the male parts were read by met etc and that made a big difference for me. Maybe part of it for me is my parents lived through the depression and world war two and so many things were so familiar despite the differences.
    Love it.

    • I didn’t realise there was a film adaptation of Daddy-Long-Legs – rather tempted now!

      And yes, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society is a gem of a book. I don’t really do audio books, but this one sounds as though it was done wonderfully.

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