Epistle, Epistolary, Epistler
Posted by: Misha Stone
I am finally getting around to reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, the book that Kaite told us all about so many moons ago and that now is sprouting up on so many best of 2008 lists.
Because Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrow’s runaway hit is an epistolary novel, a novel in letters, it got me to thinking about other novels written in this same format. A few years ago I put together a list for the The Seattle Public Library. The list is called “Epistolary: Letters, Diaries, Journals and E-mails.” I had a lot of fun assembling this list, for one, because I happen to be a letter writer myself, and two, because it is so interesting to see how, with the advent of e-mail, this format has changed over time.
There is something immediate about the form. Reading a letter is so much more intimate than, say, an omnicient narrator’s introduction to the relationships in a novel. It plunges you into the minds and lives of the characters. It can also leave you wanting more, make you read between the lines. There is also that voyeuristic aspect of reading someone else’s correspondance. Choderlos De Laclos’ Dangerous Liaisons is all the more delectable and dispicable somehow for the way in which those words, actions and motives are laid bare from one letter to the next.
Reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I am reminded of the beloved 84, Charing Cross, the real life correspondance between the American writer, Helene Hanff and a London bookseller at Marks & Co. What these two books share is a celebration of books and readers and the ways in which literature doesn’t just have the power to describe the human condition, it has the power to bring people together. That is a story well worth diving into, one letter at a time.