Epistolary Novels, Postcard-style

faithful_smThe main character in Alice Hoffman’s novel Faithful, out next month, receives encouraging postcards that help her through some seriously dark times. This got me searching for other instances of postcards-as-plot-devices in fiction.

Postcards are great. On one side, you have a pleasing photograph, pint-sized fine art print, or splashy vacation scene—and that’s just the start of this low-cost, efficient message-bearer’s appeal, especially where fiction is concerned. In fiction, as in life, postcards rely solely on the cooperation of the sender to reveal his or her identity (or not!), and they’re fair game for mail carriers, family members, roommates, and all sorts of other unintended recipients.

Sure, you can’t seal a postcard with a wax stamp, but there’s an elegance to envelope-less economy; just ask any of the following books. Postcards are used to spur characters and plots along in these 11 novels, in sweet, sinister, or just plain mysterious ways.

Faithful, by Alice Hoffman

Suffering through a nervous breakdown after surviving the car wreck that killed her best friend, Shelby Richmond is encouraged to reengage with the world by a series of anonymously sent postcards.

griffin_smGriffin and Sabine, by Nick Bantock

In this mega-bestselling visual novel, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, postcard painter Griffin falls in love with Sabine, a mysterious and faraway woman he’s never met, because of the postcards she’s been sending him.

 The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Curmudgeonly retiree Harold decides to walk 500 miles to visit a dying colleague, who he hardly knew and to whom he hasn’t spoken in 20 years. Along the way, he sends her postcards requesting that she not die before he gets there.

 The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, by Rachel Joyce

. . . And the follow-up to Harold Fry, above, tells the story from the point-of-view of Queenie, the woman on the receiving end of those postcards.

Annabel, by Kathleen Winter

Wayne receives postcards from Thomasina, the only person besides Wayne’s parents who knows about the gender duality he was born with, while she travels the world, opening his eyes to what’s beyond his remote Canadian town.

 Tapestry of Fortunes, by Elizabeth Berg

An out-of-the-blue postcard from the man she never got over is all Cecelia, a motivational speaker unable to take her own advice, needs to begin to turn her life around.

 Capital, by John Lanchestercapital_sm

In this vibrant novel about what we truly value, the disparate residents of a single, rapidly gentrifying London street are suddenly united by the anonymous postcards they begin receiving, all bearing the message, “We Want What You Have.”

The Undertow, by Jo Baker

A postcard album created by one character and discovered by her great-granddaughter 90 years later brings the narrative full circle in this multi-generational family saga.

Postcards from the Dead, by Laura Childs

After Carmela is the first to find a murder victim at a Mardi Gras party, she begins receiving postcards featuring photos of cemeteries on one side, and messages from the dead victim on the other. Creepy!

missing-oneThe Missing One, by Lucy Atkins

Kal discovers a pile of postcards her deceased mother had received, all with the same message (“Thinking of you”) and signed by a woman Kal’s never heard of. Kal seeks out the mysterious Susannah, and everything she thought she knew is upended in this gripping family drama.

Postcards from the Past, by Marcia Willett

In this intricate family tale, senior citizen siblings are contacted by the malicious former stepbrother they haven’t heard from in 50 years through a series of calculatedly spiteful postcards.

Louise’s Dilemma, by Sarah R. Shaber

Series sleuth Louise Pearlie is sent to Maryland to investigate the intended recipients of a curiously coded French postcard in this WWII-era mystery.



About the Author:

Annie Bostrom is a marketing associate for Booklist publications. She lives down the street from Chicago’s second-highest-circulating library, and she knows this. Follow her on Twitter at @eyehustlin.

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