Sunday, January 07, 2007

Booklist : Imagined letters

To celebrate the world of one-to-one communication, via snail mail, here are a few of my favourite novels that are made up solely of correspondence.

1. Fraulein Schmidt and Mr. Anstruther / Elizabeth von Arnim

A lovely book by one of my favourite authors, this is a one-sided correspondence. It consists of letters from Fraulein Schmidt, a young German lady who has been wooed and left by a travelling Englishman, Mr. Anstruther. He never answers her letters, but the engaging voice of Fraulein Schmidt carries us through from their first meeting to his eventual marriage to another, English, woman. Quite wonderful.

2. The History of Emily Montague / Frances Brooke

First published in 1769 and considered Canada's first novel, it contains many short notes and letters carried back and forth between many people. It resembles the modern 'email novel' in its quick exchanges, but due to the fact that it is actually set in 18th century New France, the rapidity of exchanges is dependent on exhausted servants dashing about delivering messages. Using the 18th century epistolary novel form in a New World setting results in a love story that is also very socially revealing.

3. Anne of Windy Poplars / Lucy Maud Montgomery

Also known as Anne of Windy Willows, this is the only book of the "Anne" series to be written in the epistolary format. It is made up of letters between Anne and her fiancé Gilbert, in a year that Anne is off teaching on the other side of Prince Edward Island. The letter strategem probably results from the fact that LMM wrote it out of sequence, going back to fill in those years when her public demanded yet another book about Anne. Still, I'll read anything by LMM, and this format allows her facility at describing eccentricities to shine.

4. Sorcery and Cecelia; or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot / Caroline Stevermer & Patricia C. Wrede

This novel began as a writing exercise between two writerly friends, but it worked so excessively well that it turned into a very diverting YA novel. It is the story of two cousins, Kate and Cecelia, in a Regency England where magic is an accepted fact, with the Royal Academy of Wizards based in London. It describes their adventures both magically and romantically, as it the year of Cecelia's 'coming out'. Quite clever and amusing; if you like Regencies you'll like it. If you like fantasy, you'll like it. If you like both, you'll love it. And the good news is, it's the first book of a series.

5. Something Drastic / Colleen Curran

A comic first novel by a Montreal playwright, this is a series of letters from Lenore to her boyfriend who has left her, fleeing to Florida. It moves from Lenore's shock to her new friendships with the woman next door and the feminist professor upstairs, which lead to her 'finding herself' and being no longer dependent on her former boyfriend's presence. Lenore's voice is very distinctive and very funny, whether describing feminist gatherings or her job singing and waitressing at a 'period' restaurant recreating New France. There are two follow-up novels if you get addicted to Lenore, which is likely.


  1. #4 sounds especially appealing!


  2. What an interesting list concept! I love epistolary novels... I always wonder, do people really write letters like that? If so, I'm missing out.

  3. Like you, I thoroughly enjoyed The Enchanted Chocolate Pot! Such fun. But I haven't been able to get through the sequel, The Grand Tour. Maybe I'm just not in the right mood.

  4. Heather - #4 was great!
    Sara - I once had a penpal who did write like that...I felt quite outclassed :)
    Jill - I'm still waiting for The Grand Tour to arrive at my library...perhaps sequels never measure up to the unexpected pleasure of the first novel?


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