epistolary novel
In an epistolary novel, the story unfolds through letters, journal entries, newsletter clippings, telegrams, narratives, statements and, now, blog entries, e-mails, and video diaries. What makes this form special is its ability to give us an unparalleled understanding of the characters through their own voices. While Dracula is one of best epistolary novels out there, here are nine others you should read to go deeper into this style.


The Moonstone

Wilkie Collins

Published in 1868, Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone is considered to be the first detective novel and one of Collins’ best works. T.S. Eliot called it “the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels in a genre invented by Collins, and not by Poe.” The novel revolves around the theft of the Moonstone- a large Indian diamond left to Rachel Verinder by her uncle- and later, the murder of her cousin Ablewhite. Using narratives and statements contributed by various characters, Collins weaves a spellbinding tale which is considered responsible for introducing elements, like red herrings and twists, which have become staples of the modern detective novel.

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Daddy Long Legs

Jean Webster

Jean Webster’s 1912 epistolary novel chronicles the personal development of Jerusha “Judy” Abbott through the letters she writes to a generous benefactor, whom she has never met. She has, however, seen his shadow and knows that he is tall and has long legs, and hence calls him Daddy Long Legs. Judy’s personality shines throughout the novel as she details her life for her benefactor and attempts to discover his identity.

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The Documents In The Case

Dorothy Sayers & Robert Eustace

This epistolary novel is Sayers only work which doesn’t feature her most popular character, Lord Peter Wimsey. The novel is told primarily in the form of letters between some of the characters. However, these seemingly innocuous letters contain clues which help Paul Harrison solve the murder of his father, George, who was found dead after having, apparently, consumed poisonous mushrooms. While everyone believed that George had made a mistake, Paul was convinced that his father, a chef, would not commit such an error.

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The Color Purple

Alice Walker

In The Color Purple, Alice Walker used the epistolary format to paint a grim picture of the protagonist Celie’slife using her own voice. Celie’s story unfolds through letters she has written to God, and later to her sister. These letters written in the voice of a 14-year old are particularly heartbreaking as they paint a vivid picture of a young black girl born into poverty and segregation in 1930s USA, raped repeatedly by her father and subsequently trapped in an unhappy marriage, and how she eventually frees herself and reunites with her loved ones.

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The Perks Of Being A Wallflower

Stephen Chbosky

This coming-of-age epistolary novel follows an introverted teenager, Charlie, as he writes letters to an unknown recipient, detailing his first year in high school. Through these letters we see Charlie deal with adolescent issues and also death and sexual assault. We also gain a deep understanding of how he thinks and his love for music and literature. As a result of the themes it deals with, The Perks Of Being A Wallflower was banned in some American schools.

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We Need To Talk About Kevin

Lionel Shriver

Published in 2003, We Need To Talk About Kevin, is the story of a woman, Eva, who is trying to come to terms with the fact that her son, Kevin, perpetrated a school massacre. Through letters written by Eva to her husband, she discusses her relationship with both her husband and son, and the various incidents in Kevin’s childhood which could possibly have led to this act. This haunting epistolary novel also details her trials as she is shunned by others and fights a civil suit filed by bereaved parents.

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The White Tiger

Aravind Adiga

Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, The White Tiger is Aravind Adiga’s debut about social mobility. Presented as an epistolary novel, the story unfolds through letters written by the protagonist Halwai to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao who is planning to visit Bangalore. Halwai wants to give him the “correct” perspective on India, one which is starkly different from the official version. He writes seven letters over seven nights and treats Jiabao to his life story, including the death of his family, how he secured a job as a driver and subsequently murdered his master and ran away with his money to ultimately become a successful entrepreneur with his own taxi company.

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The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Anne Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Set in 1946, this epistolary novel is composed of letters written by the characters to each other. When Juliet, an author, receives a letter from a stranger from the small island of Guernsey, little does she realise how much her life would change. Soon, she finds herself drawn into the world of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which started off as an alibi for the members who wanted to break curfew during the German occupation of Guernsey. Curious to learn more, she begins a correspondence with the members of the society. Captivated by their stories, she decides to write a book about the society and its members and goes on a trip to Guernsey which changes her life forever.

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Flowers For Algernon

Daniel Keyes

Originally written as a short story, which Keyes later expanded into an epistolary novel traces the development of Charlie Gordon, a man with low I.Q. who undergoes an experimental surgery to increase his intelligence. This surgery had earlier been successfully tested on a laboratory mouse, Algernon. Told through a series of personal progress reports, we see the impact of Charlie’s increased intelligence on his relationships and how his understanding of the world changes everything for him. He also spends time understanding the research behind his surgery and his reports include observations on Algernon. The epistolary format shines in this novel as we see a correlation between his improved writing skills and his increasing intelligence.

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Devanshi has been reading ever since she can remember. What started off as an obsession with Enid Blyton, slowly morphed into a love for mystery and fantasy. Even her choice of career as a lawyer was heavily influenced by the works of Erle Stanley Gardner and John Grisham. After quitting law, and while backpacking around India, she read books on entrepreneurship, taught herself web design and delved into social media marketing. She doesn’t go anywhere without a book.

She is the founding editor of The Curious Reader. Read her articles here.