World’s first Instagram novel debuts

By Washington Post Time of article published Oct 19, 2015

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Instagram has seen its fair share of photo essays, profiles and short stories. But no one has used the image-sharing network to publish an entire novel – at least not until Matilda and Harry.

Hey Harry Hey Matilda is the debut novel of writer and photographer Rachel Hulin – and the debut Instagram novel. Over the course of nine months, it will tell the story of a pair of witty, cerebral fraternal twins as they navigate the struggles of 30-something life and their own complicated relationship.

On one side: Matilda Goodman, a frustrated artist working as a wedding photographer.

On the other: her brother Harry, an anxiously untenured English professor.

The story unfolds gradually as e-mails between the two, divided up into a series of Instagram photo captions. The photos themselves are largely taken from Hulin’s 15-year career, though she’s also cast models and made images specifically for the project. Sometimes they illustrate the text they accompany; sometimes – as is the case with all great Instagrams – they just evoke a place or a mood.

“I love Instagram,” Hulin said. “I’m fascinated by this idea of everyone turning their lives into these daily visual narratives.”


Hulin has always been into narratives, visual and otherwise. Previously she worked as a photo editor and writer in New York, and has shot images for Martha Stewart Living and the New York Times. Six years ago, she began messing around with a blog that told the stories of two characters, Harry and Matilda. She played around with it for a while, showing a few friends, but eventually abandoned it to work on other projects.



HEY HARRY, Here's Part III (sorry if I'm booooring you. I will now wrap it up.) So Max came to visit on the fourth of July weekend. His eyes looked especially blue and he was talking about other girls. Older girls, girls with accents. I think he thought I was over him. He was of course un-indoctrinated in the ways of being the help so he kept making the mistake of wandering into the main house and nearly fraternizing with the family. “Do you think I have a chance with Martina?” he kept asking me. And then he’d finish the Champagne that had been left out and gone flat. I went to sleep early one night after my run, tired and keyed up from the asthma medication I’d been popping to look less rhomboid in my maid outfit. When I stepped into the blinding morning sun the next day to skim the leaves from the surface of the water I saw two bathing suits mingling together, Max’s and Martina’s, four feet down on the dappled, watery pool bottom and I sat down and cried. At the end of the summer the girls with the fake tans had a blowout fight because it turned out they were secret bisexual lovers and were having a jealousy thing. Which proved I didn’t know anything about anything. I missed you, Harry. You should have come to see me.

A photo posted by Matilda and Harry Goodman (@heyharryheymatilda) on Sep 29, 2015 at 6:15pm PDT


Still, the characters stayed with her, as did the idea of using e-mails to tell their story. In 2014, Hulin began working on a novel, finishing it in the spring of 2015.

After finishing, however, Hulin realised that a whole host of digital artifacts could double as narrative techniques: photos, e-mail accounts, personal websites even. She launched a newsletter and built Matilda a site for her wedding photography business. She also began going through her own photo archives and casting friends to play the principals for her Instagrams.

The result is an immersive digital narrative that makes Matilda and Harry feel eerily real. So real that Hulin has begun getting very earnest messages at “Matilda’s” e-mail account.


Hulin wasn’t setting out to reinvent the genre, she cautions: she spent a year crafting this novel, and that work matters more to her than the novelty of how she’s publishing it. But it’s given her an audience that’s unusual for first-time literary fiction.

“I like waking up and seeing what people have said. It’s very fun,” Hulin said. – The Washington Post

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