The Sunday Salon - Epistolic

"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. Recently, electronic "documents", such as blogs and e-mails have also come into use. The word epistolary comes from the Latin word epistola, meaning a letter." - Wikipedia

The Sunday

I have been reading two epistolary novels and have more sitting on my shelf. There is an interesting way in which the story unfolds through letter, a sort of slowness. Wikipedia suggest that this form can add a realism to the storytelling. I think part of that realism comes in the delay of information between letters, while writing one and not knowing what is happening on the receiving end at the moment it is being written. There is a level of spontaneity in a lot of the letter form novels I have read. Even though this might connect to the reality of life, I am not sure it totally reflects the reality of letter writing. In the epistolary novel a story much be arced through the book. With natural letter writing would this naturally occur? What about the normal blather about the weather? There seems to be a truth that always finds itself being sent between parties in a novel when it would just end up crumpled up in the bottom of the trash bin in real life. Why is it exactly that an epistolary novel has always held my interest? Is it simply the realist? The slice of life?

The Year of Secret Assignments
is a epistolary novel embracing most of the elements outlined in the Wikipedia entry which adds a lot of depth (and occasional confusion) to the novel. The Year of Secret Assignments is a young adult Australian novel written by Jaclyn Moriarty about a pen pal exchange between two rival schools. The Australian title of the book is Finding Cassie Crazy, and I must say I like the American title quite a bit more. I find the title unbelievably appealing in it's own right, and when I found out the story was about pen pals, I knew I had to read it. I lucked out when I found it at the library and promptly checked it out. And then it sat around my house for a few weeks until this weekend. I read it in about 3 days and not picking up another book in the meantime. If you know anything about me, that says quite a bit for how good this book is.

The teacher who assigns the pen pal assignment says the following, " will be out stand against the tyranny of technology! By sending letters, we say not to e-mails! No to mobile technology and texting!! And yes to the Joy of the Envelope!" And while this is recalled in a mocking way by one of the students there is very much truth in this statement. All over we hear of the death of letters, and even the future death of all print media. Think of all the ways technology has changed the way we communicate in the past 100 years. Maybe, in part, my draw to books written in letter form has to do with my own desire for a pen pal growing up, and now as a lament for the lack for the need of one that technology brings along with it.

The other novel I have just barely started but a friend recommended it to me a while ago and I was totally bummed out when the library didn't have it. But last week I found it at a thrift store. Which is totally validating for me. And also feeding my incessant urge to go book stopping. And actually that second part is kind of bad. Anyway it is called Ella Minnow Pea. And that is a totally cute book title.

Do you get it? LMNOP? I have only read a few pages. (Yes, you caught me, I didn't read The Year of Secret all the way through. Once when I was in the bathroom I had Ella Minnow Pea sitting on the counter and I picked it up and read a few pages. And I know you are wishing you hadn't caught me, cause you so didn't want to know that.) But my point is, in those few pages I could tell it would be a really fun read. I am looking forward to reading it soon/next.

What are some epistolary novels you have read or want to read?


  1. I'm in love with epistolary novels! I'm sort of afraid of that word but I always gravitate towards these kinds of books!

  2. Oh, Ella Minnow Pea is one of my favorite books of all time. seriously. Mark Dunn is a total genius...I can't wait to hear what you think of it!

    As for other epistolary novels, I have to admit--my favorite is probably the most well known of them--Les Liaisons Dangereuse. OMG. I could read that one over and over and over.

  3. Hey Megan! I tagged you today for a short meme because I like reading your wonderful blog!

  4. Epistolary novels are my favorites! I also love letter writing and had penpals as a young child and an adult. I've lost touch with them and should look to reconnect with them or find some new ones. I especially enjoy overseas penpals from different countries as I love to hear about their lifestyles and experiences. This is probably why I love epistolary novels! Some of my favorites are: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, 84 Charring Cross Road and Fair and Tender Ladies.

    Thanks for sharing about these two books. I have not heard of The Year of Secret Assignments and it sounds wonderful. I have heard of Ella Minnow Pea but did not realize that it was an epistolary novel. I will be adding these two books to my evergrowing wishlist!
    This was a great post, I enjoyed reading it very much.


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