The Short Form Reshaped: Email, Blog, SMS, and MSN in Twenty-First Century E-pistolary Novels

Laura Santini


By borrowing from computer coding strategies or computer-based communication tools and rules, by re-thinking typo-graphic and layout strategies, the digital or electronic short forms of twenty-first century e-pistolary novels are made of are crossbreeds that expressively capture and mirror the fragmented, often simultaneous and multi(p)layer, nature of the contemporary conversation threads within a pervasive communicative environment. The result is that e-pistolary fiction revises correspondence typologies, thematic patterns, conventions, techniques and rules at various levels, namely narrative, symbolic, linguistic while disrupting the linearity of the book form through high discontinuity as well as refashioning and jeopardizing one of the strongest assumptions of epistolary novels, i.e. materiality. Not intended as an investigation of traditional letter novels, the aim of this paper is twofold. On the one hand, it intends to provide a preliminary mapping of some of the computer-mediated short forms and their re-shaping in literary works in book form: to this end, somenarratives are briefly introduced as specimens of twenty-first century e-pistolary novels and some of their salient features highlighted - a question that has as yet received little critical attention. Four are the examples that have been selected: Microserfs (1995) and J-Pod (2006) by Douglas Coupland; The PowerBook (2000), by Jeanette Winterson; and Black Box (2012) by Jennifer Egan. On the other hand, this paper discusses e2 A novel (2010), the second e-pistolary novel by British author Matt Beaumont, as a case study of a remediation in print of some born-digital short forms compiled through an almost filmic montage: an effective rethinking of the letter novel that cleverly combines a multitude of characters, several subplots, and a variety of text types that are a collection of electronic messages emerging from the contemporary digital environment rather than from literary history or tradition.

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