Books: Correspondence: An Adventure in Letters by N. John Hall

I've written a couple times about how I struggled a bit with this book. It had been well reviewed and came highly recommended, and I'll grant that it was unique and cute. The major barrier, for me, was the character Larry, who I found a tad obnoxious.

Let me first explain the book. It is epistolary in nature, which I guess is meant to be clever in a way since it is a bunch of letters about a bunch of letters. This Larry character writes to Christie's in London regarding some old letters from Victorian authors that he found in his great-great-grandfather's belongings. A man at Christie's named Stephen responds and the two strike up a—aha!—correspondence that discusses these letters from Dickens, Trollope, Thackeray, and the like.

Larry writes the bulk of the letters. Or maybe he writes just as many but his are much longer. And while Hall definitely gives Larry a distinct voice, I can't say I much liked him. He wasn't unkind or anything—he was, in fact almost too personable—but I found him grating. While Stephen urged Larry to please send the letters to Christie's for review, Larry insisted on making personal transcriptions and so on and so forth . . . And then he decided he needed to read some of these Victorian novels . . . And take a class on them . . . So that he was e-mailing Stephen all about the books and the class, and everything sort of got bogged down because Stephen really had little to say in return. I think if Stephen had better held up his end of this "conversation," the book might have been more interesting and it would have cut Larry's overpowering of the narrative.

I had thought when I started reading that at some point we'd get to the Victorian letters, but aside from some transcriptions Larry sends to Stephen via e-mail, we never see/read them. In retrospect, I suppose it would be a bit much to write faux letters from all these famous authors. But it meant I really was stuck with Larry throughout the book when I had expected at some point to be free of him.

And then the ending felt oddly rushed. Though it was satisfactory.

I didn't much like the typeface the book was set in, either. It's a lovely typeface, really, just not ideal for so much text. But that's just personal preference. (And then again, I did work in publishing, do have a degree in publishing, and did take book design. So it's also an informed opinion.) The size of the typeface made it seem like they were working to make the book long enough. That is, the print was set pretty large. It was kind of strange.

But I don't mean to harp or nitpick. I really don't. If anything, I can say I haven't read anything quite like Correspondence, at least not recently. Epistolary novels are not that common any more. And they are kind of fun. At least I can say this book was a different kind of experience from the norm.

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