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Epistolary novels

Jason Gurley
Jason Gurley
1 min read
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 recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use.Wikipedia

Epistolary novels are, in my experience, usually quick reads, and as a result, might seem insubstantial. I think that's a mistake. These novels have to simulate the rhythms of a real life; each entry in their pages is usually stuffed with context. A journal entry recorded ten minutes after a botched date; a letter dashed off a month after its intended recipient has died; a flurry of messages generate a storm in a message board. From each, you can extrapolate things like a character's emotional state, their own lack of context, a moment's place in time and space.

I love epistolary novels. I really don't remember when this started. But I do remember the book that really cemented the form for me. It was Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, the story of a group of former Microsoft employees who venture out on their own, told through a series of electronic journal entries. (This might also have been the novel that spawned my fondness for workplace fiction. Man, give me an epistolary workplace novel, and I'm content.)

The Dark Age, my current project, is something of an epistolary novel. Heck, it might be entirely epistolary, if I can pull it off. The form is harder than it looks. If I can contribute to it, though, I'll die a happy writer.

Here are some of my favorites:

And while not explicitly epistolary, I read both of these as if they were personal diaries; they felt epistolary, at least:

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