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Examples of novels in first-person diary style
December 12, 2007 2:14 PM   Subscribe

Literature filter: Novels in the form of a first-person diary (day-by-day entries, or entries set against calendar dates). Can you name any good examples, particularly contemporary? I'm aware that it was relatively common format in earlier novels (for example, Dracula).

Here in the UK we had the excellent Adrian Mole series.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool to Writing & Language (42 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Stephen King's unfinished The Plant was very good as far as it went. I found the epistolary format very grabby.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:18 PM on December 12, 2007


This will help.
posted by jbickers at 2:21 PM on December 12, 2007


Obvious answer: Bridget Jones's Diary and Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason.

I'm sure there must be more. Oh Wikipedia wins. The list includes traditional epistolary novels (with letters or emails) but also ones that use diaries and blogs.

Oh and other examples not listed there: Microserfs. And JPod. I haven't read it yet, but apparently Coupland's latest, The Gum Thief uses a combination of journal entries and other stuff.
posted by SoftRain at 2:25 PM on December 12, 2007


To make this 100% clear, I'm looking for books that are "diary novels". Not "letter novels", or any other kind of epistolary novel. The example of Adrian Mole is a good example -- that's simply a humorous narrative laid out across diary entries.

I'm looking primarily for contemporary examples.
posted by long haired lover from liverpool at 2:26 PM on December 12, 2007


Diary, by Palahniuk. It's violent but not Guts gross. I don't like diary format novels much but I greatly enjoyed this one.
posted by cobaltnine at 2:31 PM on December 12, 2007


The Handmaiden's Tale
posted by generic230 at 2:31 PM on December 12, 2007


What about Kate Christensen's The Epicure's Lament? The novel is basically the diary entries of the narrator (but amounts to much more than that).
posted by mothershock at 2:32 PM on December 12, 2007


The original Dracula, by Bram Stoker, is all in the form of diary entries, letters and so forth.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:33 PM on December 12, 2007


Whoops, you mention that in the question. Apologies.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2007


Daddy Long Legs comes across as a diary, even though it's letters, because the letters only go in one direction and the narrator doesn't know the recipient (her benefactor).
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 2:34 PM on December 12, 2007


Diary Of A Rapist, by the ever-essential Evan S. Connell.

It's a creepy read, but also one of the best books ever written.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:36 PM on December 12, 2007


Christopher Priest's "The Presige" comes to my mind. No linky, sorry.
posted by angry.polymath at 2:37 PM on December 12, 2007


That's "Prestige". Oopsies.
posted by angry.polymath at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2007


Go Ask Alice.
posted by JanetLand at 2:44 PM on December 12, 2007


seconding Diary, by Palahniuk
posted by prophetsearcher at 2:45 PM on December 12, 2007


1000 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed
posted by missjamielynn at 2:47 PM on December 12, 2007


Ooops hit post too soon- it's 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed
posted by missjamielynn at 2:48 PM on December 12, 2007


Diary of a Provincial Lady and its sequels, by EM Delafield.
posted by goo at 2:54 PM on December 12, 2007


The Journalist
posted by dizziest at 2:58 PM on December 12, 2007


Flowers for Algernon!
posted by showbiz_liz at 3:06 PM on December 12, 2007


In elementary school I read a book called "Mostly Michael" by Robert Kimmel Smith that was in this format. It was definitely one of my favorite books as a kid.
posted by PFL at 3:09 PM on December 12, 2007


Thirding Diary, and Al Franken's I'm Good Enough... (Stuart Smalley) is one of the funniest and sweetest things I've ever read.

mothershock, I'm floored to read mention of Kate Christensen- she was one of my dormies at Reed. I'm thrilled to bask in her reflected glory.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 3:13 PM on December 12, 2007


Allboookstores.com has a 16-page list of diary novels. Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops has a 41-page list.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:17 PM on December 12, 2007


Gilead.
posted by billysumday at 3:27 PM on December 12, 2007


Heinlein wrote two such, though the entries aren't daily. One was Podkayne of Mars and the other was Time for the Stars.

Large parts of The Hound of the Baskervilles is presented in that fashion, either as a series of diary entries or as a series of letters written by Watson to Holmes.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 3:37 PM on December 12, 2007


Random Acts of Senseless Violence is a pretty good diary novel.
posted by Pangloss at 3:54 PM on December 12, 2007


Soldier of the Mist and Soldier of Arete by Gene Wolfe are novels in the form of a diary written by a man with amnesia who wakes every morning with no memory of the day before.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 4:16 PM on December 12, 2007


We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Not technically a diary book: it is composed as a series of dated letters from the narrator to her husband.
posted by TheOtherGuy at 4:37 PM on December 12, 2007


Oh, and while not exactly in diary format The Time Traveler's Wife uses calendar dates (though non-linear) to tell the story.
posted by Pangloss at 4:55 PM on December 12, 2007


It's a short story, and it's not exactly contemporary, but there's "The Distances" by the superlative Julio Cortázar in Blow-Up.
posted by azure_swing at 5:22 PM on December 12, 2007


Somewhat contemporary - The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole and all its sequels were great funny reading when I was younger. They are set in England starting in the 1980's.
posted by cadge at 5:44 PM on December 12, 2007


I'm surprised that nobody's mentioned Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian, which is a recent vampire novel similar in structure to Dracula.

When I was younger I enjoyed John Marsden's books, like So Much to Tell You (diary), Take My Word for It (diary), Letters from the Inside (correspondence), So Much to Tell You (diary), Checkers (diary), &c.
posted by robcorr at 10:05 PM on December 12, 2007


Oh, and how can I forget the entire Tomorrow, When the War Began series?! Although I don't think it is date-stamped.
posted by robcorr at 10:10 PM on December 12, 2007


It's not a novel, exactly, but rather more complicated: Diary of a Disappointed Man, by W.N.P. Barbellion.

From pseudopodium.org, which has it serialized at the, to me, very addictive Barbellionblog, a description:
In March 1919, The Journal of a Disappointed Man by "W. N. P. Barbellion" was published. As promised, the absurdly pseudonymed author seemed disappointed and male; also brilliant, autodidactic, obsessive, explicit, self-lacerating, and dead.

The blend of naturalist and Naturalism naturally appealed to H. G. Wells. The blend of conventional tragedy and titillating dirt appealed to a larger audience. And "Barbellion"'s disappointment struck an introductory chord with those more fortunate members of his generation who'd survive to call themselves "Lost".

The book was therefore a success.

It was also a puzzle. The presumable source material wasn't presented raw; it had clearly been labored over. But the result was far from flattering, and hardly as sensitive to family feelings as one would expect from an executor.

Some doubted its veracity (as I've doubted Plain Layne and Belle de Jour). Speculation centered on Wells as the author. Again, unlikely. Although the book's power was cumulative and structural, that thudding, cyclic, organic, and anticlimactic structure matched no existing model of the novel.

Later in 1919, the controversy was somewhat settled when a second "Barbellion" book appeared: Enjoying Life and Other Literary Remains, an awkward assemblage of odds and ends with a forward by the author's brother. Some pretense of disguise was maintained — the forward was signed only "H. R. C." — but the scientific papers reprinted there were little harder to trace than a domain registration would be these days.

The next year a slim sequel to the Journal appeared, a Last Diary in which the protagonist, undead without comment, quickly went on to die again. No further resurrection was forthcoming.
It's so good. Really it is.

Though what's on the front page right now isn't the best I've read, so I'd suggest diving around a bit.
posted by felix grundy at 10:28 PM on December 12, 2007


"Me and Miss Mandible" is a short story by Donald Barthelme that is presented as a series of journal entries. It's online here.

Sorry, I know you asked for novels specifically but I really like this story, so I had to link to it...
posted by Life at Boulton Wynfevers at 2:24 AM on December 13, 2007


Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith. It is not contemporary, but it very funny, and an accessible read.
posted by cluck at 4:04 AM on December 13, 2007


Ah, glad nobody has mentioned it yet: Zombie by Joyce Carol Oates.

Disturbing, full to the brim with shockingly violent and gruesome scenes. Superb!
posted by richardh at 5:13 AM on December 13, 2007


If you want an example of a YA novel Catherine Called Birdy by Karen Cushman was a Newbery Honor book in 1995. It's very cute; the title character is a 13th century teenager who keeps a diary.
posted by pointystick at 7:30 AM on December 13, 2007


The Princess Diaries?
posted by divabat at 7:52 AM on December 13, 2007


The Perks of Being a Wallflower - awesome book.
posted by lunasol at 5:40 AM on December 17, 2007


Parts I and III of The Savage Detectives (published in Spanish in 1998; an English translation came out earlier this year) are in the traditional first-person diary format. Part II, which makes up most of the book, is also first-person and comprised of a number of short, dated segments, but there are dozens of narrators.
posted by electric water kettle at 5:47 PM on December 18, 2007


I asked a similar question a while ago. Many great recommendations there.
posted by ilike at 3:46 PM on December 26, 2007


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