Between the Lines Book Club: Epistolary Novels

between the lines book club logoWelcome to Between the Lines Book Club! This month we’ve been reading Gilead, a novel by Marilynne Robinson. We’ll be meeting in person at Arden Dimick Library in Sacramento, California, at 10:30AM on October 22, 2016.

Gilead is written as a series of letters form Reverend Ames to his young son. Ames had his son late in his own life and he knows he will not live to see his son grow up, so he wants to leave a communication with the child he will soon leave behind. This format is known as an “epistolary novel.” An epistolary novel is one that consists of a series of letters. It can also consist of a colleciton of documents. For instance, World War Z, by Max Brooks, is made up entirely of a collection of interviews, and Carrie by Stephen King, consists of letters, newspaper articles, and excerpts from books.

If you are interested in the idea of the episotolary format, here’s a sample to get you started!

Lady Susan, by Jane Austen

Lady Susan was finished by austen, but probably not fully edited and polished. It appears not to have been intended for publication. Despite it not being as fully developed as Austen’s published works, this short novel is hilarious and wicked, as Lady Susan, a woman with no morals whatsoever, wreaks havoc on the lives of the proper people her surround her. You can find my full review here and my review of Love and Friendship, a movie based on the book, here.

Dracula, by Bram Stoker

In this classic horror novel, the story is told through letters by Mina, Jonathon, Dr. Seward – in fact, almost every character except for Dracula. This gives the story a sense of immediacy and increases the feeling that Dracula is unknowable. We never hear his point of view – we simply sense his prescence, looming over all of the characters at every moment.

The Color Purple, by Alice Walker

This classic novel is told as a series of letters from Celie to God and later to her sister Nettie. As Celie becomes more confident, her letter become longer and more fluent. Because the novel is in Celie’s voice, the reader has a visceral sense of her struggles against racsim, sexism, and poverty, and the reader thrills at Celie’s liberation as she develops a sense of self and a place in her community.

Super Sad True Love Story, by Gary Shteyngart

This book is told in the form of diary entries and emails. In the near future, Lenn is a middle-aged man, the son of Russian immigrants, who falls madly in love with Korean-American Eunice Park. Meanwhile, America faces political and economic collapse. The story of these mismatched lovers is funny, sharp, and yes, super sad.



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