11 Epistolary Novels That'll Make You Miss The Days Of Letter Writing
For anyone who didn't earn a degree (or, you know, a few, because they're so fun) in English Lit, let's start off by examining what exactly an epistolary novel actually is. Simply put, the epistolary novel is a novel written in the form of diary entries, newspaper clippings, legal records and other documents, and — like each of the novels (and one memoir) on this list — letters. (Chances are, if you've been a book-lover for as long as I have, your first epistolary novels might have looked a lot like the Dear America diary series that took up a ton of space on my own childhood shelves.)
While lots of literary trends come and go, the genre of epistolary novel has been in circulation since the 1700s, popularized by books like Samuel Richardson's novels Pamela, in 1740, and Clarissa, nine years later. And we've seen tons more published since then. My favorite epistolary format is the novel written in letters — it’s sort of like discovering a long-hidden family heirloom, or the most guilt-free form of eavesdropping. Plus, nobody seems to write letters anymore (e-mails don’t count) and I for one miss the days when checking the mailbox was exciting.
'Letters From Skye' by Jessica Brockmole
A multi-generational novel that centers around the letters of love lost, Letters From Skye by Jessica Brockmole tells the story of two women: Elspeth Dunn and her daughter Margaret. During World War I, Elspeth falls in love with an American ambulance driver through the letters they exchange back and forth. A generation later, Margaret is writing letters to her fiancé, who is fighting in France during World War II. When their family home is bombed during the war, Margaret discovers a package of her mother’s letters — and a secret about her family’s past.
'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' by Stephen Chbosky
You may have enjoyed The Perks of Being a Wallflower on the big screen, but if you have yet to read the original novel, you should definitely add author Stephen Chbosky’s debut success to your TBR pile. A touching and relatable coming-of-age story about a socially awkward high school freshman named Charlie, the novel is told through letters that Charlie writes about his life to an unknown recipient. Maybe the recipient is you.
'The White Tiger' by Aravind Adiga
Told over the course of seven days in the life of narrator Balram Halwai, 2008 Man Booker Prize-winning epistolary novel, The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, is structured as a long, nearly manic-seeming letter about life in India, class struggles, and the success and corruption of the narrator himself.
'Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian's Love Letters and Break-Up Notes to the Books in Her Life' by Annie Spence
The epistolary memoir that all book-lovers will find themselves wanting to emulate, Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks is librarian Annie Spence’s collection of love, like, and, occasionally, hate letters to the great (and not-so-great) books she’s spent time with in her life among the stacks. Published last month, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is snarky, relatable, and laugh-out-loud hilarious — and it really will have you writing letters to the books in your own life, I swear.
'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Another title that book lovers will absolutely adore, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is told through letters, and centers around a World War II newspaper columnist named Juliet Ashton. In pursuit of serious journalistic opportunities, Ashton travels to Guernsey — a small island in the English Channel, populated by a community of entirely lovable characters whose lives were saved by reading.
'Love Letters to the Dead' by Ava Dellaira
This YA novel begins when high school English student Laurel writes a letter to Kurt Cobain for a class assignment. But Laurel’s letter to Cobain is only the first in a series of letters that the young teen writes to the dead — sharing the innermost thoughts, questions, fears, hurts, and longings that she can’t share with anyone in her living world. Navigating young love, loss, abuse, and more, Ava Dellaira’s Love Letters to the Dead is a sweet glimpse into the mind a complicated and inquisitive teen girl.
'Last Christmas in Paris' by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
An epistolary novel to put you in the holiday spirit, Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb introduces you to Evie Elliot and Lieutenant Thomas Harding — a journalist and book-loving soldier fighting in France during World War I. The two become increasing intimate as their letters travel back and forth through dangerous terrain and time, and their story will leave you entertained and uplifted.
'Daddy-Long-Legs' by Jean Webster
Beautifully written with just a twinge of a Lolita vibe (IMO), Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel, Daddy-Long-Legs, is about a 17-year-old orphan named Jerusha Abbott, whose entire life changes when she learns that a mysterious and unnamed benefactor has agreed to fund her education—giving her an opportunity live a life most orphans only dreamed of. The only catch is that she must write this benefactor, known only as Daddy-Long-Legs, monthly letters about her academic progress. Maybe if he had a different name the premise wouldn’t feel so Lolita-y…
'Dear Mr. Knightley' by Katherine Reay
A novel that blends the aforementioned Daddy-Long-Legs with a healthy dose of everyone’s beloved Jane Austen, Katherine Reay’s Dear Mr. Knightley introduces readers to book-loving former-foster child Samantha Moore, who has been given a full scholarship to graduate school from an anonymous donor. The only condition being — you guessed it — that Samantha must write “Mr. Knightley” regular letters about her education. 2013’s Miss Moore, however, doesn’t seem to appreciate her education quite as much as 1912’s Jerusha Abbott.
'Dracula' by Bram Stoker
This classic novel is the perfect epistolary read if you’re starting to feel those Halloween vibes. Written as a series of letters, in addition to diary entries, newspaper articles, and ship logs, Bram Stoker’s Dracula begins when the Transylvanian Count Dracula seeks out legal advice for his real estate dealings. But the story takes a terrifying turn when Dracula imprisons his legal adviser and sets sail for England, where he plans to search for fresh blood and humans to convert to the undead. Shiver.
'The Incarnations' by Susan Barker
Another epistolary novel that I’m kind of obsessed with, Susan Barker’s The Incarnations begins when a letter falls into main character Wang’s lap as he’s sitting in a Beijing taxi. The letter was written by someone who claims to be his soulmate and old friend — and who has improbably been journeying through various lifetimes with him for over 1000 years. As letter after letter appear, detailing past lives of enslavement, war, and haunting marriages, Wang beings to wonder if someone is watching his every move, and what’s going to happen when the letters finally catch up to his present lifetime.