The Sunday Salon: Epistolaries and Philately

The Sunday

An epistolary novel is one whose story is told through the medium of letters written by one or more of the characters
So this week, I found myself reading not one, not two, but THREE novels of the epistolary genre! Quite by accident (another case of bookendipity).

First up was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - a novel whose lengthy, cutesy title put me off for awhile until I started reading rave reviews about it. It's a deceivingly deep book, told in a series of letters exchanged between Juliet, a columnist and freelance writer living in London; residents of the island of Guernsey; and friends of Juliet. It's set just after WWII. I didn't know the history of the Channel Islands during the war, so the story was an eye opener for me. The novel is funny, poignant, sad and rich with some very endearing characters. The letters work well to reveal the characters and the story.

The next book I grabbed off the shelf was Ella Minnow Pea -a quirky, clever dystopian novel about the fictional island nation of Nollop, where the national hero, the island's namesake, is worshipped to godlike status. He was the author of "The quick red fox jumps over the lazy dog," an alphabetical feat they think cannot be duplicated.

When letters start falling off Neville Nollop's statue, the island Council takes it as a sign from the deceased Nollop and forbids the citizens to use, in speech or writing, any of the disappeared letters. As they fall one by one, life becomes nearly impossible for the citizens, whose main mode of communication with each other is via written letters. Near the end of the novel, so much of the alphabet has fallen that the Council approves using substitute letters (ph for f) or homonymns. (This part reminds me of the Anguish Languish version of Ladle Rat Rotten Hut which used to send me into fits of giggles as a child when my mom read it to me. I've always loved word play!) Fun as this novel is, there is a serious undertone about censorship, the power of words and fascism.

Another book I started dipping into, Radical Prunings, turns out to be a collection of fictional garden advice columns - letters to and responses from Mertensia Corydalis (which, of course, is the name of a plant). Mertensia has a biting sense of humor, is not very kind and has absolutely no use for lawns.

Q. I'm new to gardening and want to try my hand at roses. I recall a bright orange one my parents were particularly proud of called Tropicana. Should I buy one potted or bare-root? --Lois, Dudley

A. Lois, Lois. Where is your brain? Why in the world would you crave a rose the color of a vinyl couch in the waiting room of your local muffler shop?

Some other epistolary novels I've read recently: 84, Charing Cross Road - a delightful exchange between author Helen Hanff and a bookseller in London. Some people have tagged Dear American Airlines as epistolary, but I think that's stretching it.

And of course, there's the wonderfully creative Griffin and Sabine series, which brings me to the second $100 word in the post title, philately (the collection and study of stamps). In the Griffin and Sabine books, Sabine creates the stamps for the little island of Katie where she lives. I love the artwork in these books and made a little philatelic collection of my own:

Wishing you all a spectacular Sunday and a wonderful week.



Jill said...

I really need to get to that Potato book. If I see it today while out and about, I think I'll buy a copy.

Enjoy your Sunday!

gautami tripathy said...

I too wish to read the Potato book!

Waking upto SS after a day of serial blasts in Delhi

Karen Harrington said...

A very interesting collection indeed!

Andi said...

So much to love in this post! Namely, the Griffin and Sabine books! I love love love them.

As for the Guernsey book, I was wayyy put off by the title, but I'm increasingly interested as I see mention of it popping up on more and more of my favorite blogs. Glad it's a winner!

Wendy said...

Great post, Terri! I am not overly fond of Dystopian literature, but I have to admit, you have greatly tempted me to read Ella Minnow Pea (very appropriate considering our current political climate, eh?).

What is it about stamps that are so interesting? I think its the art in a tiny space thing that appeals to us...but, I love looking at stamps. If I needed another thing to collect (which I definitely DO NOT!) it would be stamps!

raidergirl3 said...

I am starting to give in to the Potato book as well. The title seemed to twee, but I really liked 84 Charing Cross Road, and that seems to be the most comparisons.

I adored Ella Minnow Pea, such a cleverly written novel.

Have a great day!

Book Zombie said...

Epistolary novel!!! I knew this type of book had a name, thanks so much for adding this definition - it has seriously been driving me mad :)

Have a great Sunday!

Janet said...

I love "bookendipity"! :-) These reviews definitely raise my interest... I've read some other good reviews of the "potato peel novel" too.

I remember loving A.S. Byatt's 'Possession.' It's what pops to mind when I think of epistolary novels -- though maybe it's a mix.

Thanks for stopping by my blog, and for the welcome to SS.

Literary Feline said...

I do hope to one day read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. I love that title! I am glad you enjoyed it.

It has been a while since I read a book told through letters, but I definitely do enjoy the format.

Have a wonderful week, Terri!

tanabata said...

The cutesy title of 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society' originally put me off too. But I've read some great reviews of it, and now that I have an idea what it's actually about, it's gone on my wishlist.
I've had Ella Minnow Pea for a long time but still haven't got around to it. One of these days..