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For Readers: Blog

Nested narratives

by Book Geniuses on 2020-11-04T11:46:46-06:00 | Comments

The narrative structure of a story within a story has been around for centuries: from the ancient epic Mahabharata to the Middle English The Canterbury Tales to 1818's Frankenstein. This clever storytelling tool goes by many names: nested narrative, frame story, matryoshka structure. And authors continue to use it today. Whether you like literary fiction or prefer the latest fantasy novel, we’re sure there’s a nested narrative that’s perfect for you!

Helen Oyeyemi is known for lush and fantastical writing, and her latest novel Gingerbread is true to form. Harriet and Perdita Lee are your typical mother-daughter duo living in a quirky London flat — except for the fact that Harriet spent her childhood in the country of Druhástrana, a place that supposedly doesn’t exist. When Perdita sets off to track down her mother’s long-lost friend from Druhástrana, the journey unfolds through woven tales from Harriet’s youth. [e-book | e-audiobook | print | large type]

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente is science fiction with a delightfully unique take on a trusted trope. Severin Unck is a documentarian dedicated to observing various cultures throughout the solar system. However, during the filming of her latest documentary about a lost colony on Venus, something goes terribly wrong. The mystery of what happened to Severin and her crew is told to the reader in the style of found footage and interviews with the survivors. Film buffs and fans of Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven will enjoy this twisting tale. [e-audiobook | print]

If you’re interested in a more literal take on a story within a story, The Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak is worth a look. Ella Rubenstein is an unhappy wife and mother who is looking for something new in her life, so she begins working for a literary agent. Her first assignment is a novel that follows the friendship between famed 13th-century poet and Islamic scholar Rumi and his spiritual mentor Shams of Tabriz. As Ella is drawn into the world of Rumi (a story that the readers get to enjoy, too, because of the nested narrative), she also begins to feel herself being drawn to the author of the novel, Aziz Zahara. [e-audiobook | print]

For fans of historical fiction, The Shadow Land by Elizabeth Kostova is sure to thrill. Alexandra is a young American woman who moves to Bulgaria. On her first day in Sofia, she accidentally ends up in possession of an urn inscribed with a name — Stoyan Lazarov. Teaming up with a cab driver she has befriended, Alexandra begins a tour of Bulgaria as she searches for the Lazarovs and learns more about Stoyan. Interspersed with his memoir of life during 1950s Communist Bulgaria, this is an intriguing mystery, tragic history, and love letter to the beauty of the Balkan country. [e-audiobook | e-book | print | audiobook]

A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum is a stunning debut that follows the stories of two Palestinian-American women, Irsa and her eldest daughter Deya. After an arranged marriage that compelled her to leave home and family in Palestine, Irsa tentatively makes a life in Brooklyn, where she gives birth to four daughters, much to the disappointment of her parents-in-law, who eagerly await a grandson. Soon after the fourth child is born, tragedy strikes. Almost two decades later, Deya, now 18, receives a mysterious note that casts doubt on the story she’s been told about what happened to her parents. As she investigates, she learns about her mother’s life, with the narrative alternating between the two women’s lives. This is a moving novel about family, marriage, and immigration. It's a great choice for fans of A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza and Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok. [e-book | e-audiobook | print | audiobook]

M. L. Rio’s If We Were Villains is full of tried-and-true mystery goodies: intrigue, romance, and a murder most foul. Oliver Marks has just been released from prison, where he has spent the last several years for a murder he may or may not have committed. Returning to the scene of the crime, he recounts his tale to the detective who worked the case. Detective Colborne was never convinced that Oliver was truly guilty, and he’s determined to finally find out the truth. [e-book | print]

Bonus! If you caught Netflix’s latest horror series The Haunting of Bly Manor last month, check out The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. This classic Gothic tale inspired the series and also features a nested narrative. It's available as an e-book and in print.


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