S4L Book Club – Epistolary Novels

Linda and Becca mentioned the letter format of the Guernsey book. What do you think of epistolary novels? Have you read many? Do you think this was a good structure for presenting this story? What are some of the benefits and drawbacks?

I don’t think I have read many epistolary novels. There’s a list of other such novels posted on the Guernsey book website at Random House. (Lots of other interesting things there, too, by the way.)

I listened to the audio book, and I had some difficulty early on because I couldn’t remember who was who, and I couldn’t just flip back for a glimpse of a character’s earlier letters. Sometime in Part 2 of the story, I wound up starting over from the beginning because I needed to sort out some of the earlier info. At that point, I had a better grasp of the characters. The story fell into place, and it was smooth sailing, but I needed that repetition.
There’s no question that seeing the words and hearing the words are two different experiences, and individuals respond differently to those experiences. Some people are better listeners; some people are better readers. Also, I tend to feel that audio book readers can make or break some stories. I adored the readers of this book!

I happen to like stories told from multiple perspectives, the piecing together of a story shared by several characters. Would the story have been much different had it been told from multiple points of view but not in the form of letters?

Categories: Reading

3 replies »

  1. I like stories from multiple point of views, too. Maybe that’s why this epistolary novel worked for me.
    I’m trying to think why I don’t normally enjoy that type of novel. You’d think it would bring you closer to the character(s). But I think I miss the mixture of dialogue, description, narrative etc., that a standard type of novel has that allows you to see many aspects of a story, its plot and characters. It has more depth, to me.

  2. What do you think are some reasons to choose the letter format for a story?

    And are there things that can be shown in letters that cannot be shown in straight narrative?

    Dialogue is something that straight narrative has that could be put into a letter, but probably not in the same quantity.

  3. The epistolary approach works for me here, but probably wouldn’t in many cases. Here, the early relationship of many of the characters can only be established in letters. Juliet doesn’t go to Guernsey until she has a real interest in these people. Would we find out as much about Elizabeth (to me, the actual main character) through dialogue and narrative? I’m not sure that we would.
    I don’t think the appraoch would work as well if there are fewer characters, or if the writer is less proficient at handling multiple POVs. I like dialogue and rich narration, too and wouldn’t care to read novel after novel without them.