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Letters of Note

Cate Olson

It is easy to be nostalgic about the joy of receiving letters. I admit to not being a great correspondent (apologies to everyone I owe a missive to!), but admit, too, that I love reading a good letter.

So whenever I want to savour those pleasures, I turn to one of my favourite epistolary tomes – and there’s such a varied selection to chose from that there’s something to fit every mood! These are just some of my favourites:

Letters to Alice on First Reading Jane Austen – Fay Weldon

Enticing letters to an imaginary niece, extolling the delights of novels. Some of the best ruminations on popular fiction!

Thus was Adonis Murdered – Sarah Caudwell

A delightfully urbane legal romp with a clever twist. We like to share this murder mystery so we can ask an important question – but it wouldn’t be right to reveal the question before you’ve read it. Sorry.

Love, Nina – Nina Stibbe

What an unexpected pleasure! It made me laugh out loud several times, and think how lucky her sister was to open these letters. . .  We can only hope that Nina is following on with on something equally entertaining; until then, I’ll just have to keep rereading these . . .

Griffin and Sabine – Nick Bantock

Someone gave us these years and years ago – a kind of 'Jolly Postman' book for adults. Many thick novels tell less compelling stories than this slim, mysterious little trilogy.

84 Charing Cross – Helen Hanff

I’m a bookseller and an anglophile, so of course this book is on my list. Uniquely charming and tender, the unfolding long-distance friendship that unfolds through the letters is simply lovely; and the love for books  shines through every page. (It is hard to imagine a version with Jeff Bezos as the bookseller . . .)

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

One of those novels that have a startling depth and generosity of spirit. The authors’ weave a story that makes the personal consequences of historical events resonate with a power that grows when you reflect that it is Mary Ann Shaffer’s only book (finished by her neice).

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