Story Time!: 9 Books That Feature a Story Within a Story

The act of storytelling has been used as an engaging plot device throughout literary history. Just think of THE ODYSSEY and THE CANTERBURY TALES. The inventive result is what is known as a framed narrative. Below are some brilliant examples of framed narratives—stories relayed from one character to another within the novel—that are perfect for you to sink your teeth into.

by J. M. Coetzee

A woman approaches Daniel Foe, a trader and writer, and claims to have been a castaway on a deserted island. She tells her story, and that of her rescuer, Cruso, and his manservant, Friday. This smart retelling of ROBINSON CRUSOE illustrates the power of storytelling and the various ways people can perceive the truth.

The Princess Bride
by William Goldman

The pop-culture classic that spawned one of the most beloved films of the 1980s was inspired by an equally charming and hilarious book. The novel is presented as an abridged version of a tale by the fictional S. Morgenstern, whose colorful commentary is sprinkled throughout this fantastical romance.

The Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss

A stunning and vivid fantasy novel, THE NAME OF THE WIND features an infamous and powerful magician recounting his life story to a scribe. The first in a trilogy, this riveting tale features murder, a school of magic, and plenty of danger—perfect for adult readers looking to satisfy that Harry Potter itch.

The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall
by Anne Brontë

The often-overlooked Brontë sister, Anne, crafted the first true feminist novel with this unflinching look at marriage, alcoholism, and lost love. Through letters, a farmer recounts the appearance of a mysterious widow and her young son in a nearby estate. Where did she come from and what is she hiding? More important, what is she hiding from?

The House at Riverton
by Kate Morton

An elderly woman tells a filmmaker about her youth spent as a servant for an aristocratic family. Her story focuses on a mysterious death that occurred during a glitzy party—a death she happens to know the truth about. In the same haunting vein of Daphne du Maurier, Kate Morton crafts a passionate, page-turning mystery.

Charming Billy
by Alice McDermott

Billy Lynch’s loved ones gather after his passing to reflect on his life, creating a portrait of a complex, funny, and enigmatic man. A moving, gorgeously wrought depiction of lost love, loyalty, alcoholism, and the strength of family, CHARMING BILLY is one of the most cherished depictions of the Irish Catholic community in New York.

The Turn of the Screw
by Henry James

The best ghost stories are the ones told directly to you, and no other story captures that chilling experience like THE TURN OF THE SCREW. On Christmas Eve, a group of friends are told the tale of a Victorian governess and two odd, precocious children. Were the children possessed by sinful ghosts? Was the governess mad? Or is something even darker occurring?

Mason & Dixon
by Thomas Pynchon

One cold night, a clergyman entertains his family with tales of working with Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon (of the Mason–Dixon line fame). What follows is a complicated and fascinating story with parallel narratives, philosophical arguments, conspiracy theories, and appearances by George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and more.

Absalom, Absalom!
by William Faulkner

William Faulkner’s epic tale ABSALOM, ABSALOM! was inspired by the Bible and Greek tragedies, and it’s considered one of the greatest Southern novels of all time. Multiple narrators with unique perspectives share their opinions of Thomas Sutpen, a poverty-stricken man with an intense desire to gain wealth and create a dynasty.