The epistolary novel; a complicated word for a simple and often more enthralling than expected form of fiction. It’s the type we bookworms love to curl up with when it’s cold outside. You access the story via a series of documents, be they (less conventionally) emails, radio sessions or (more traditionally) the old-fashioned letter. This device heightens the impression of realism to give the reader an illusion of real people and real life – perfect for the committed escapists among us! Here are our top 5 recommendations…
THE COLOR PURPLE by ALICE WALKER
A beautiful, heartbreaking and sometimes violent novel which brilliantly evokes America’s Deep South back in the 1930’s (censorship panels have been known to have a problem with this story). Celie writes in the vernacular in her letters to God and her sister, the only means by which she is able to express herself and her despair.
EVELINA by FRANCES BURNEY
This wonderful eighteenth century novel captures the journey of a naive eighteenth-century girl as she makes the transition from the innocence of home to the dangers and pleasures of Georgian London, charting her correspondence with the adopted father of her idyllic youth…check out Samuel Richardson for works from the same era.
FROM E TO YOU by CHRIS D’LACEY and LINDA NEWBERY
This one comes with a major twist. It’s told in entirety in the format of emails between a girl and a boy, Annabelle and Guy. Interestingly, it was written spontaneously as a result of emails batting to and forth between the co-authors. Best of all, Chris D’Lacey studied at our very own University of York.!
ELIZABETH 1st COLLECTED WORKS edited by LEAH MARCUS
Okay, not strictly fiction, but Bess’s letters make for fascinating reading as you are drawn in to discover the mythical political workings of the Virgin Queen’s actual correspondence. It offers an incredible insight into her psyche and lets you actually experience history as it happened.
THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER by STEPHEN CHBOSKY
Set in the nineties, a teen goes by the name of Charlie and addresses his letters to an anonymous stranger. It tells the story of his introverted adolescence and how he navigates his freshman years in a high school in Pittsburgh. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, like The Color Purple has also been challenged a fair few times on the American Library Association’s list, suggesting the epistolary form to be a subversive, intriguing form at least and at best a vehicle for protest and expression.