Diaries, Letters and Journals
I'm busy planning my second novel and surprise, surprise, it's another dual narrative. The stories are set thirty years apart and the mother's is going to be told through her diary entries at the time. I wanted to see how other authors have handled the diary entries, as part of their novels. Did the entries form whole chapters or did they start the main chapters? What was the language like? Were they written in whole sentences? Note form? Was the style conversational?
One of my favourite books is 'One Last Summer' by Catrin Collier. She was inspired to write it when she learned the truth about her maternal family's history through reading her mother's and grandmother's diaries. Although the novel is a work of fiction, it is based on those diaries and spans over sixty years, from the life of grandmother Charlotte to her granddaughter, Laura, who is a journalist. It is told in modern times with the past recounted when Charlotte re-reads her diary entries. Through these, we enter her world in East Prussia in 1939 and learn of her history. I'm re-reading the book but this time noting more about the structure and the way the author has used the diary entries.
I asked on Twitter if anyone could recommend any dual narratives with diaries or letters forming one of the stories. Carol Bevitt kindly replied almost immediately recommending that I Googled 'epistolary fiction'. I have to admit I didn't know what that was but could work it out from its link with 'epistle'.
An epistolary novel is a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used.
Here is a List of Contemporary Epistolary Novels on Wikipedia. This was useful because I recognised a number of titles and it listed the format together with any comments about each title there. So, a big thank you, Carol!
Another helpful reply came from Beatrice Charles. She recommended looking at '84 Charing Cross Road'. The book is a true story of the love affair between Miss Helene Hanff of New York and Messrs. marks and Co. sellers of rare and secondhand books at 84, Charing Cross Road, London. It is told in a series of letters and then in diary form in the second part 'The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street'.
Susannah Bavin recommended 'The Italian House' by Teresa Crane. She explained that it wasn't exactly a dual narrative but it does contain diaries from previous generations. The heroine reads these and they feed into the heroine's own situation. She describes it as 'A superb book - full of atmosphere and a wonderful sense of place.'
How can I not be drawn to that? I've read more about it and love the atmospheric cover. Definitely on my To Read pile, I think. Thank you, Sue.
Can you recommend any novels with diary entries included as part of the narrative? I'd love it if you commented and let me know. Thanks. :-)
Once I have my list, I shall spend an afternoon at my local library researching how the diary format was handled and which one suits my 1975 story best.
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