Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Favourite Epistolary Novels!
Thanks again to The Broke and the Bookish. So, inspired by a conversation that I had on Twitter last week (if you want to follow me there it’s @beingsuzie by the way) I wanted to make a list of my favourite epistolary novels. I really, really love these kinds of novels; I suppose I just think it’s an interesting way to get into the heads of characters – especially when they often leave so much to the imagination about the surrounding people in the main character’s life:
For the avoidance of doubt:
An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used.
- I Capture the Castle – this remains, to me, the ultimate epistolary. Set (largely) in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere in England, with a cast of characters including the frustrated writer Mr Mortmain, Topaz, a hippy-like model, Rose, beautiful and longing to see something else of the world than what she already knows… and of course, Cassandra, my favourite forever, who chronicles all of this in her journal. Despite the improbable circumstances, there’s something so true about the emotions as portrayed in Cassandra’s diary – even those of others. Highly recommended.
- Les Liaisons Dangereuses – how could I not include this? It’s a surprisingly easy read, a rip roaring tale of passion and betrayal. The machinations of Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquis de Merteuil are just deliciously evil and the excess of drama is balanced really well with the more realistic undertones of characterisation. Also, props for including such a complex female character as the Marquis.
- Finding Cassie Crazy (and the other Ashbury books) – these books are so much fun! They’re also probably the first books I read that were set in Australia. I’ve picked the second one, but really the first three are all amazing in different ways. Though I don’t think the idea of the original project (exchanging letters between a private school and a state school) is very realistic it makes for a very realistic portrayal of the lives of teenagers. It was so much more emotionally authentic to my experience of growing up than a lot of American YA. The fourth book is not really very good, but the first three remain some of my favourite books even now.
- The Perks of Being a Wallflower – I probably don’t need to say much about this one. I know it gets a lot of stick for being pretentious but I really liked this. I think that Chbosky is a a pretty incisive writer and he writes about the big emotions pretty well. Realistically, I think this is one you have to read when you’re a teenager, especially if/when you’re going through a period of feeling isolated from your peers and having difficulty understanding what you feel about growing up.
- The Moonstone – I unexpectedly loved this! Often touted as the writer of the first mystery stories, Collins has such a wonderful sense of glee and wonder in his writing, coupled with some of the most wonderful and amusing character sketches that I can think of. You can see the mutual influence that he and Dickens have on each other, but this is definitely lighter than a Dickens novel – that’s not a criticism, just an observation. The story centres around the titular moonstone and the mystery surrounding its disappearance. It’s told through a series of statements by the people peripherally involved in the incident, and still feels exciting and innovative nearly 150 years later.
- The Remains of the Day – this story is just heartbreaking. The meditations of a butler on his increasingly obsolete profession and the relationship between his master and himself. Definitely worth a read if you like Downton Abbey as you can see the same themes of the decline of the British aristocracy.
- Attachments – this is just so much fun and easily Rainbow Rowell’s best novel to date (though Eleanor and Park is also very good). Although the premise of reading someone’s emails without their knowledge is pretty creepy I think it’s handled fairly well. The relationship between Beth and Jennifer is just so beautiful and touching that it really carries the book and makes it worth reading.
- Flowers for Algernon – don’t read this if you’re feeling even mildly depressed or sad.
- The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 – has the funniest first five pages that I have ever, ever read. Honestly, you can tell this book’s age, but it doesn’t matter because there is so much that is funny and recognisable in this book. I’ve only read one of the sequels, but this first book is a classic of British literature for a reason.
- The Color Purple – I expected this to be kind of miserable and, I’m not going to lie, there are some horrible bits in there. But there is a running undercurrent of hope in Celie’s letters and this is an important book for people to read for many reasons.
So what are your favourite epistolary novels? Please recommend me some!