If you clicked this link just to see what epistolary means, it’s a novel or works written in the form of letters or correspondence. Epistolary novels have been around as long as stories themselves. The earliest recorded epistolary novel was Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister, published in 1684.
Since then epistolary novels have taken on many forms. Some are simply collections of published letters or correspondence, others are fiction books written in this form. Today we’re going to feature some of my favourite, across many genres.
Love Letters between a Nobleman and His Sister – Aphra Behn
I simply had to include this, simply for being the ground breaking book that created this whole genre. The novel is loosely based on the love affair between Ford, Lord Grey of Werke and his wife’s sister, Lady Henrietta Berkley, a well known London scandal of the late 1600s.
84 Charing Cross Road – Helen Hanff
If you love books and books about books and bookshops then 84 Charing Cross Road is essential reading. The book is a collection of letters, written over twenty years between the author and Frank Doel, chief buyer of Marks & Co antiquarian bookshop, located at the eponymous address.
I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
Written in the style of diary entries, I Capture the Castle tells the story of a family living in gentile poverty in a decaying castle. This coming of age story tells Cassandra’s story from childhood as she grows into a young woman.
House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
House of Leaves pushes this genre to an entire new level, in fact he pushes book writing to a whole new level in this edgy book. Reading it is a challenge, making sense of the codes and in-messages is both fun and frustrating, and while it isn’t the chunkiest novel you’ll read, put a while aside for reading it.
Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
Flowers for Algernon is a sci-fi novel that takes its own twist on the epistolary genre. Algernon is a laboratory mouse, and the book is written as a series of lab reports written by the first human subject test for a new surgery.
We Need to Talk About Kevin – Lionel Schriver
This is easy in my top ten books of all time and is a fantastic read. Written from the perspective of Eva Khatchadourian in the form of letters to her husband as she tries to come to terms with the actions of her son.
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 ¾ – Sue Townsend
The Adrian Mole book and it’s follow ones was the first book I ever read in this genre, and it’s fun, touching, and easy to read as you follow Mole’s thoughts and neuroses in the form of diary entries.
Persuasion – Jane Austen
Persuasion, or the Persuasion of Jane Austen is one of the best known epistolary novels of all time. This was a favourite writing style of the classic women authors, Austen also published Lady Susan in this genre, and Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is written in the same prose. Three recommendations in one.
Where Rainbows End (Love, Rosie) – Cecilia Ahern
This is such a fun book, written as a series of letters, notes, and text messages between two childhood friends, into adulthood and all the difficulties that come with growing up. It’s also a great movie starring Sam Claflin!
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