Monday, January 11, 2010

Books by Theme: Epistolary Novels


Elizabeth Forsythe Hailey's A Woman of Independent Means chronicles the life of Bess Steed Garner from 1899 to 1968 through a series of correspondences. Letters to her family and friends reveal not only her spirit and strength but also her controlling and, at times, insensitive nature. Although born into social privilege, Bess faces much adversity, struggling with the untimely deaths of her husband and son, near business ruin, and a devastating house fire.

The famous real-life correspondence between New York writer and bibliophile Helene Hanff and the employees at British bookstore Marks and Company are compiled in 84 Charing Cross Road. What started as a request for an out-of-print book evolved into a 20-year friendship. In her saucy letters, Hanff playfully harangues the staff : "SLOTH: I could ROT over here before you'd send me anything to read."

Mark Dunn's fabulously inventive novel, Ella Minnow Pea, is set on the fictional island of Nollop. In this Orwellian-like society, the Island Council pays homage to Nelvin Nollop, the author of the famous sentence that uses all the letters of the alphabet—"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog." When letters start to fall off the bust of Nelvin Nollop, the council takes it as a sign to ban those letters from speech and writing. As more letters disappear, they, too, are eliminated from daily life, as well as from the epistles that propel this novel's narrative.


Letters, faxes, and emails trace the funny—and moving—travails of Olivia Hunt in Elisabeth Robinson's The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters. As a Hollywood producer, Olivia has suffered through her share of bad movies, but now her own life rivals the worst box office bomb. She has lost her job at Universal Pictures, is on the verge of being evicted, and has been dumped by her true love when she learns that her sister Maddie has leukemia.


Pulitzer Prize–winning author Carol Shields collaborates with playwright Blanche Howard in A Celibate Season. Jocelyn is a lawyer who accepts a temporary job in a different city, leaving behind her husband of 20 years to look after their teenaged children. Seeking to rekindle their romance, they decide to keep in touch through letters. The result is a thoughtful, probing exploration of relationships.

12 comments:

Shweta said...

Jane Austen's Lady Susan was also in epistolary format . I have added these books to my list. Nice post

melissa @ 1lbr said...

You should definitely add Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - it was beautifully done.

Lisa said...

I do love books written this way. They just seem to pull me through.

Lenore said...

I adore Ella Minnow Pea. One of my all time faves!

Diane said...

Ella Minnow Pea is one of the books that has been recommended a lot, but I never got to :(

Jaymie said...

Ella Minnow Pea sounds fantastic. Can't wait to check it out!

Eva said...

What a fun theme! I'm planning on reading 84, Charing Cross Road this year, and I read Ella Minnow Pea last year. For the Decades Challenge, I'm doing the 1700s, so I have several epistolary novels on that list. I just finished my first-The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe, which I really liked!

Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness) said...

I loved Ella Minnow Pea -- it's such a smart book. It gets hard to read near the end, but it was cool anyway.

Michele at Reader's Respite said...

I just bought 84, Charing Cross Road....I'm so excited to read this!

Nymeth said...

I love epistolary novels! :D A while back I wrote a post asking people to recommend me some and they suggested most of those. Now I just have to read them - I've only read the Helene Hanff, which I loved.

gaby317 said...

Thanks for the post! I haven't read most of these books and am looking forward to going through them.

I second Melissa's recommendation - the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was wonderful!

raidergirl3 said...

I will add some of my favorites:
Clara Callen by Richard B Wright
Bridget Jones by Helen Fielding
Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger

plus a bunch that have already been mentioned.

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