Novels written in diary form feel at once intimate and true. They allow narrators to speak freely, often revealing their cruel or hilarious sides, or to investigate self-doubt in what should be private pages. And we’re all voyeurs at heart: who doesn’t love the idea of discovering a secret diary and digging in? Here are some of my favorite examples of the form:
Diary, by Chuck Palahniuk
Misty Wilmot is ostensibly writing a daily record of life in her quaint tourist attraction of an island town for her husband, Peter, after a suicide attempt leaves him in a coma. But the diary soon becomes more than a simple recording of her days. Misty details the downward spiral of her life—from promising young art student to pill-popping wife, mother, and waitress—and the degree to which she finds Peter, also a failed artist, responsible. In true Palahniuk fashion, it doesn’t take long for things on the island to get weird, if not downright dangerous, in Peter’s absence. Possible conspiracies, numerous faked deaths, personal injury, and Misty’s artistic revival are all recorded in her diary. Whether those things are all related is for you (and poor, comatose Peter) to find out.
Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson
This novel is also a personal record intended for an audience of one. The 2005 Pulitzer Prize winner is the journal of elderly and dying Reverend John Ames of Gilead, kept to be read later by his 7-year-old son. Ames details how he met his much younger wife and the effect she had on him, as well as touching events from his son’s early years. He also ruminates on his own childhood, his own father and grandfather, and his faith.
Bridget Jones’s Diary, by Helen Fielding
Begun as a satirical column in the British paper The Independent, Helen Fielding’s Bridget suffers the sex, love, and body image obsessiveness perpetuated by women’s magazines. Her diary was released in novel form in 1996. The story follows Bridget, a single 30something, as she learns (kind of) that the goals she’s been focusing on aren’t what’s most valuable in life. But it’s Bridget’s voice, acerbic and sparing no one (herself included) that make this diary a gem. (The third installment of Bridget’s diary, Mad About The Boy, was released earlier this year.)
Microserfs, by Douglas Copland
In the very early days of Microsoft, Windows coder Daniel U. keeps a journal in his word processor about life on the campus. In spite of himself and his reverence for the All Mighty Bill, Daniel’s journal reveals the feudal-style system he and his fellow peasant-geniuses operate under. All-nighters, bad diets, tears, allegiances, and betrayals are all part of the campus lifestyle. Rebellious sentiment grows until Daniel and his tech-savvy but less-than-street-smart coworkers find work on the outside, discovering the big world of Silicon Valley in the days leading up to Windows ’95 and the Macintosh revolution.
52 of the 56 Sherlock Holmes stories, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Technically Dr. Watson’s accounts of what he considers the more thrilling of Sherlock Holmes’ cases are more the notes of a journalist than a true diary, as they’re compiled later into articles celebrating his roommate, friend, and hero. But Dr. Watson, who as a diarist has more of an eye for detail than Holmes usually gives him credit for, is an almost obsessive recorder of events. He’s sure to record everything, from quirks in a client’s clothing and facial hair to Holmes’ criticism and/or praise of the writing itself (both of which are usually related to Watson’s accuracy and objectivity).
What’s your favorite fictional diary?