Here are my favorite books that have a story within a story. Frame story is my favorite literary device. Don’t know why I am drawn to it.
The very first book that comes to mind when thinking about frame story narrative is Arabian Nights. Or as we call it in Arabic: One Thousand And One Nights. A woman needs to keep telling stories so that her husband doesn’t kill her. Each night she keeps the story at a cliffhanger to keep him hooked. The husband keeps her alive for one more night, then another until he gets attached. The happily ever after is achieved after one thousand and one nights. Some people are hard to please.
Hamlet by William Shakespeare is so famous I probably don’t need to say too much about it. It is a play and therefore you are meant to go see on the stage. However, it does come in a book form providing an enjoyable read. It is a play within a play. Hamlet suspects that his mother and uncle conspired to murder his father. As he plays detective to the demise of his father he hires a group of actors to act out a story of a woman conspiring with her brother-in-law to murder her husband. His plan is to observe their reaction for clues of a guilty conscious. The setting of the play within a play with all the complex interactions that happen around it is a true delight.
S. By J.J.Abrams and Doug Dorst. Yes! J.J.Abrams the Hollywood movie maker behind Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and Star Trek Into Darkness. This is a very unique novel. It contains a main story. And then there is another story that takes place in the margins of the book. Two people are corresponding with each other by leaving messages in the margins of the book. As you turn each page you are introduced to the main story. A mystery surrounding the book and author. And then the lives of two people who are interested in it. A very creative way to have a story within a story.
Generation X by Douglas Coupland is the novel that named a whole generation. I guess it’s my generation. It tells the story of a group of young people who reject mainstream culture and decide to live outside of what society is expecting of them. Forget the rat race. Forget career. Forget endless striving. They entertain themselves by telling each others wildly imaginative stories. Through each story within a story you get insight into their thoughts, dreams and aspirations.
Misery by Stephen King draws inspiration from the Arabian Nights. In fact it mentions Scheherazade, the heroine of Arabian Nights through out. It tells the story of a man who finds himself in a horrific predicament. He is held hostage by his number one fan and he has to write a story to please her so that she doesn’t kill him. He is writing a historical romance adventure novel about a woman called Misery. As he places Misery is darker and darker predicaments he is pouring his own anguish into the story. On the other hand, as he figures out how to rescue Misery from the situation she is in, he is inspiring himself to rescue himself.
It was my son that got me to read Misery by Stephen King. He heard me describe the novel Take The Highway to a friend. I had this idea that I wanted to take the central part of Arabian Nights, flip the genders and set it in modern day setting. I described my thinking process here. My son told me that the premise of my novel was exactly the same as Misery. Despite the similarity, Take The Highway is a completely different novel. A husband tells stories to his wife to keep her amused before bedtime because she suffers with insomnia. Once the relationship dissolves, the wife remembers the stories and realizes that they contain the seeds of what was going wrong inside the marriage. Over time the stories help her get over the devastating heartbreak.
I turned this list of frame story novels into a video. I hope you enjoy watching it.