Nothing beats a novel that is packed with secrets, drama, plot twists, and scandals.
Each page is a door to a new world, with each word building an orchestrated story to keep you gripped.
Some of the best novels that achieve this are epistolary. These are written in the form of written documents, such as diary entries or letters.
The stories are told through a series of personal documents written by the character or characters in the story.
Whether these letters are written to other characters in the novel or an absent recipient depends on the story, but epistolary novels are often some of the most engaging pieces of literature around.
Are you looking for some great epistolary novels to read? You’re in the right place as I have gathered seven of the best below so you can start reading today.
What Is An Epistolary Novel?
Epistolary, Latin for “letters”, novels are stories told through the medium of letters, diaries, or other written documents.
These novels can also include other types of documents, such as emails, newspaper articles, and even telegrams.
Readers have been enjoying epistolary novels are centuries, with some famous examples being Samuel Richardson’s “Pamela” (1740), which tells the story of a young woman’s struggles through a series of letters, and, perhaps most famous, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” (1897).
Stoker uses a collection of diary entries and letters to tell the story of a vampire’s invasion of England.
Epistolary novels can be a powerful storytelling technique, as they allow the reader to see the story through the eyes of multiple characters and can create a sense of intimacy and immediacy.
They can also be a challenging form to write, as the author must create believable characters and voices through their written correspondence.
If you love delving into letters, diary entries, or other forms of personal communication in novels, you’ll love my selection of epistolary novels below, including The Roxy Letters
by Mary Pauline Lowry, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and, as previously mentioned, Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Let’s check out my selection of the best epistolary novels below so you can get reading today.
7 Epistolary Novels That Are A Must-Read
Many people have heard of The perks of Being a Wallflower but only through the movie starring Emma Watson.
But, as with most stories, the best way to enjoy the story is by reading the original book.
This is a coming of age epistolary novel written in the form of letters from Charlie, the main protagonist.
The letters are directed to an anonymous recipient, but we learn of Charlie’s experiences throughout high school, his friendships, and even his mental health struggles.
A variety of themes are explored throughout the novel, including adolescence, love and relationships, family, literature, and art.
It is a powerful and moving exploration of the challenges and joys of growing up, and the importance of finding connection and meaning in our lives.
- An authentic portrayal of adolescence describing the struggles and challenges that we find growing up, which many readers find relatable
- Important themes are explored, such as mental health and identity
- Has an emotional impact on the reader with deeply moving moments
- Come content may be triggering to readers with topics covering drug abuse and mental health issues
Next up is The White Tiger by Indian writer and journalist Aravind Adiga.
This novel is written as a single letter that is directed to the Chinese Premier before he visits India.
The story details Balran Halwai, a bold entrepreneur, who is adamant on becoming a success.
Balram is introspective and very smart. He is also a murderer, which is proclaimed in his writings.
His letter vividly tells of the clear wealth disparity in India, as well as the corruption that ravages his country.
Also, he faces institutional barriers, and Baram has a boundless ambition to succeed.
This leaves you, as the reader, wondering how far he might go to achieve a better, wealthier life.
The White Tiger explores a variety of important themes, from social inequality and poverty to corruption and exploitation.
It is a provocative insight into Indian society but with many moments of humor, although mostly dark.
- The narrative voice is truly compelling with Balram being witty, engaging, and unforgettable, making the story an absorbing and enjoyable read
- A deep exploration into complex themes, such as morality and ethics, making it meaningful and thought-provoking
- Social structures are critiqued in detail, calling attention to change that is still yet to happen, 15 years after being published
- Includes graphic and violent content that may be upsetting for some readers
Without a doubt, the most famous novel on our list, and one of the most famous of all time, Dracula by Bram Stoker is composed entirely of letters, journal entries, and newspaper clippings.
These come together to tell the story of a group of people trying to defeat the titular vampire, Dracula.
This classic novel has no single protagonist, but it does include some main characters, such as Jonathan Harker.
The book opens with Harker taking a business trip to Transylvania to stay at the castle of a nobleman named Count Dracula.
Before long, Harker discovers that Dracula is in fact a vampire so flees the castle. The Count decides to move to England where he seeks new victims in the town of Whitby.
However, Abraham Van Helsing leads a small group who are on a mission to hunt and end Dracula’s reign of terror and his life.
Dracula explores some fascinating themes, such as good versus evil, and gender roles.
Throughout the novel, the female characters struggle to assert themselves in such a male-dominated society.
Overall, Dracula has had a phenomenal impact on popular culture and remains suspenseful, engaging read 200 years after its first publication.
- Very memorable characters, such as Count Dracula, and many are well-developed making the reader care more about their experiences and stories
- Has had a significant influence on popular culture with its portrayal of vampires, leading to countless TV shows and movies
- Boasts a vivid and evocative gothic atmosphere keeping the reader hooked
- The novel has been criticized for its sexism and racism, with some noting the stereotypes and derogatory language used to describe the female and non-white characters
As the name suggests, The Roxy Letters is told through a series of letters, somewhat like Bridget Jones’s Diary.
We follow the main protagonist, Roxy, a twenty-something year old who always seems to be broke (something most twenty something year olds can identify with).
But, Roxy is a bold character as she sets out to tackle the injustices and evils of
Roxy also has to contend with living with her ex who is a perpetual evader of paying rent.
We learn all this, and much more, through her snarky, strongly worded, often misguided letters, that mostly go unsent.
It is a somewhat delayed coming of age story about a woman who is trying to figure her life out (often sounds easier than it is).
There is an abundance of themes in The Roxy Letters, such as focusing on the millennial culture with the letters detailing Roxy’s struggles with work, relationships, and her identity.
It can be regarded as a sharp, humorous social commentary on American society, its politics, consumer culture, and social media obsession.
- A very funny and witty novel that is entertaining to read
- An authentic portrayal of millennial life that many readers can associate with
- A fast-paced and engaging read that keeps readers hooked from the beginning to the end
- Has a limited perspective which can make the book a little one-sided and lacking depth
Written by best-selling American author Helene Hanff, 84, Caring Cross Road is a charming book containing a collection of letters between the author, Helene Hanff, and a London bookseller named Frank Doel.
The letters span a period of 20 years and reveal a deep and enduring friendship that develops between the two correspondents.
Through the letters, we learn that New York City bibliophile Hanff is in search of some books that she can’t find locally.
Therefore, she turns to store manager Frank Doel in London. Over the course of twenty years, the two exchange chatty letters, and a meaningful, deep, long-lasting friendship blossoms.
The novel is based on Hanff’s own memoir and has been adapted into a two-person stage production and movie versions starring Anne Bancroft, Anthony Hopkins, and Judi Dench.
As a lover of literature, the literary theme that runs throughout this novel is wonderful to read.
The novel explores the deep and abiding love of literature shared by Hanff and Doel, as well as their shared belief in the value of books and reading.
There is also the theme of cultural exchange as both Hanff and Doel share stories, opinions, and perspectives across the Atlantic.
This is a heartwarming book that celebrates the power of literature, friendship, and human connection.
- Has a unique and engaging narrative structure thanks to its memoir form
- Contains witty and charming prose with clever observations that are a pleasure to read
- Provides a fascinating insight into the post-war era and the cultural differences between America and England during that time
- Can meander at times with a lack of conflict and tension
A Tale for the Time Being chronicles Nao, a sixteen-year-old living in Tokyo who has decided to end her own life.
Skip forward ten years and Ruth, a failed novelist, discovers Nao’s well-preserved diary washed up on a desolate beach in Canada.
The diary details why Nao decided to make such a radical decision.
Ruth Ozeki has created a novel full of intrigue and mystery, dabbling in magical realism.
From Nao’s diary, we learn that she was a native Californian girl and a second-generation Japanese American.
After her father loses his job, her family is required to move back to Tokyo but for Nao, she identifies as an American and this sudden change leads to a spiral of depressive thoughts and discomfort living in a foreign land.
Not only this, but her family life is also unhappy with her father going into a state of seclusion after falling into depression himself.
A Tale for the Time is a deeply thought-provoking tale that is concerned with human connection and the passage of time.
It details the complex nature of assimilation as Nao tries to fit in, knowing she probably never will.
Nao’s writing is impassioned and through Ruth, we get a new point of view as we try to uncover what happened to Nao.
- Written with a multi-layered narrative creating a complex, yet engaging read
- Explore cultural identity, in particular, American and Japanese cultures, delving into issues of belonging, heritage, and cultural exchange
- Compelling, nuanced read with two perspectives (Nao’s and Ruth’s)
- Contains depressive themes, such as suicide and cultural displacement which can trigger some readers
Composed entirely of letters between Juliet Ashton, a London writer, and members of a book club on the island of Guernsey, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society reveals the spirit and resilience of people who lived during the Nazi occupation of Guernsey during World War II.
You may have already seen the screen adaptation of this book starring Lily James.
Set in 1946, the novel tells the story of Juliet Ashton who is searching for a new book idea after the end of World War II.
Upon receiving a letter from Dawsey Adams, a man who lives on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, the two strike up a correspondence in which Dawsey informs Juliet of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book club that he is a member of.
Juliet becomes fascinated by this society as she learns more about each member and soon decides to visit Guernsey and write a book about the society.
Juliet uncovers a story of love, loss, and resilience in the face of unimaginable adversity.
Through their letters and personal accounts, the society’s members reveal how literature helped them survive the war and form lasting bonds with one another.
Community and belonging are strong themes that run through this heartwarming, beautifully written epistolary novel.
- Has an interesting and engaging premise that draws the reader in
- Well-researched historical settings give further context and depth to the story and gives the reader a lesser-known aspect of World War II
- Become emotionally invested in the likable, well-developed characters
- Some readers may find that certain moments are overly sentimental and predictable with little to no action throughout
What To Look For In An Epistolary Novel
Epistolary novels are told through letters, diary entries, and other forms of personal communication.
Therefore, the characters should feel true to life and authentic with unique personalities and voices.
The best epistolary novels include characters that develop over the course of the story.
A Variety Of Perspectives
A key advantage of epistolary formats is that they allow for multiple perspectives and points of view.
I suggest looking for novels that include letters or diary entries written from the perspective of multiple characters, as this can provide a richer and more complex understanding of the story.
Has An Interesting Premise
If you’re a lover of action packed dramatic sequences in novels, you may find many epistolary texts quite slow-paced.
That is why you should try and find one with a premise that you find interesting.
For instance, a novel set in a time period you are interested in or aimed at your age group.
I recommend looking for novels with unique or intriguing plotlines to keep you engaged from the first page to the last.
Some of the most intriguing and entertaining novels I have read have been in the epistolary style.
Reading letters or diary entries provides readers with a unique and intimate look into the characters’ thoughts and feelings.
Because the story is told through a character or different characters’ own words, we get a more personal view of them.
These texts also allow for a deeper exploration of the characters’ inner lives and allow us to see how they evolve and develop over time.
Above are just a few examples of great epistolary novels, but there are many more waiting to be discovered by you.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Are The Main Advantages Of Reading An Epistolary Novel?
Epistolary novels allow for multiple perspectives and voices, as the stories are told through the correspondence of various characters.
This can create a more complex and nuanced story. Additionally, the use of personal writing can create a sense of intimacy between the reader and the characters.
What Are Some Disadvantages Of Reading Epistolary Novels?
Epistolary novels can be limiting in terms of plot and pacing, as the story is always told through the messages of the characters.
It can also be more challenging for writers to form a cohesive narrative and maintain consistency in the story, often leading to confusing texts.
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