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on 22 April 2013
The Letters is an intimate, mesmerizing read littered with poignant and revealing insights. Successfully combining lyricism with pace and energy, and enough mystery to keep this reader gripped, it is a satisfying read whose central character, Violet, stayed with me long after I turned the final page.

The story begins in the aftermath of a violent row between Violet and her new lover, Tom. After a long-term illness and subsequent re-evaluation of her life, Violet has recently moved to a small, tightly-knit coastal community, much to the consternation of friends and grown-up children. Violet has abandoned her career as a lecturer, divorced her husband of many years and moved house.

Her new relationship, a passionate and turbulent one, absorbs some of her plentiful free time, as does involvement with the village committee and its peculiar collection of members, but Violet still has a great deal of time for reflection. She is a lonely, confused woman in transition. She receives a series of letters sent by a pregnant unmarried woman, Elizabeth, to her best friend Bea in the late 1950s. Elizabeth is confined to an institution awaiting the birth of her child.

Robyn weaves the two narratives together deftly. Violet's story of reawakening and rebirth is intercut with Elizabeth's story, and the crux of the book lies in how the two women's lives are connected.

In many ways Violet is an unlikely heroine. Complex, isolated, impulsive. And while I didn't always like her I found her utterly believable and quite fascinating. Violet is middle-aged, a little jaded, irascible. Elizabeth is young, optimistic, and frightened. They are both confused, in need of solace, facing difficult choices at key stages in their lives. The Letters is rich with nuance and psychological insight. The imagery is poetic and imaginative, and it positively pulsates with celebration of the extraordinary in the everyday.

If I have any criticism of the novel it is that I would like to have heard more from the letter writer, Elizabeth, particularly in the early sections of the story. While I never lost interest in Violet's tale I did find myself eagerly anticipating Elizabeth's sections and would have welcomed more on her.

As the gorgeous but somewhat misleading cover image [refers to a previous cover] suggests the book is primarily aimed at women. But The Letters is an altogether more sophisticated read than the cover implies, and one that I most certainly recommend.
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on 22 April 2013
The Letters contains the most amazing amount of fruit and veg I've come across in a novel. In order of appearance, there's cucumbers, onions, garlic, mango, apples, blackcurrants, potatoes, lemons, peaches, strawberries, runner beans, raspberries, cabbage, peas, carrots and bananas. It gives the book a fresh sense of detail, and an alive quality, I think. It's a very organic book, dealing with birth, death, growth, how we spread out our emotions and how they get chopped back, only to grow again. I kept picturing the main character, Violet, as a plant. Maybe a fennel bulb, growing straight up, not spreading out, but putting out delicate feathery fronds.

A great book to read while sitting your garden...!
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on 29 December 2013
I had trouble with this because it wasn't serial enough for my liking: an initial lovers' bustup, and then from there on in the episodes did not make any chronological sense. Interspersed with pages and pages of backstory, which I suppose was there in order to flesh out the protagonist, but instead may just have been an act of catharsis, was a domestic tale of spiteful village jealousies, all seen through the eyes of the unlikeable and somewhat poisonous narrator, whom I could not believe. And interspersed with *that* are these mysterious letters from some 50 or so years before (all dated meticulously to 1959) whose origins are not investigated. (If it had been me, I would at least have examined the postmark to see where they had come from.)

There are spelloes, malapropisms and grammatical mistakes (the ubiquitous "her" instead of "she" in a compound subject at one point), and even typesetting errors. Granted it's a small press (dare I say: an amateur press?) and this sort of thing happens -- but it does detract.

The punchline, when it happens, is a bit of an anticlimax, but then it does make sort of sense. I just wish I could have begun to like any of the characters in it. Maybe this is what Satya is trying to say: everybody is flawed, nobody is likeable, this is the sort of rubbish you have to share the world with, look, give a break to the people around you, they probably think as little of you as you do of them.

Be a bit more tolerant, yeah? And that goes for you too, Westwood.
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on 22 April 2013
The Letters is a debut novel by Fiona Robyn here reissued under her new name Satya Robyn. It is a startling work: like a flower that needs staking in the wind it wavers at base before Robyn's work bursts forth in the most beautiful living prose.

Violet is a fifty-one year old divorcee and mother of four adult children, a son and three daughters. She has moved to the Sussex coast to start again, and the book opens with Violet, in a terrible temper, leaving her lover Tom. Violet's reminiscences about her life, and how she has got to where she is, are interspersed with letters. These letters are mysterious objects out of time. A complete series dated in the 1950s, they arrive periodically and spook Violet as she tries to come to terms with the woman she has become post-divorce.

Initially not enough is made of the mysterious letters, they just appear, and much of the early story is made up of family reminiscence. Then suddenly, part way into the novel, Violet steps off the page and really starts to live, with prose that is light and fast and utterly convincing, and by the end we have an absolute little cracker of a book.

This is an ultimately enchanting first step on what will no doubt be a fascinating path for Robyn, and I am sure many readers will follow her work closely. It really is worth a read.
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on 20 July 2014
I've just started re- reading her books as they are so inspiring.. I want to really absorb some of her philosophy. I am a christian and she isn't but we 'speak' a similiar language of love, grace and generosity and her books help me live it!
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on 3 August 2014
A book that twists and turns. A book that makes you exasperated and then brings a tear to your eyes. Such a powerful story. I think I need to read it again now to fully take it in. It grips you right at the heart go your feelings.
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on 30 September 2013
Got to say i enjoyed this book,was written with such empathy for the poor girl in the letters,and so clever how she was brought into the storyline at the end of the book,as you were waiting to find out why the dates on letters were all wrong for the era Violet was living in.
Also the relationships of Violet and Tom were written about in a sensative way,and you kept thinking at back of your mind,is Tom a man ?
Great how the transformation of Violets nature unfolded along the way,and she became more understanding of feelings of others around her.
Think Satya Robyn is a Brilliant writer and shall look out for future books by her.
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on 23 April 2013
Satya's poetry is exquisite; the words are almost palpable, ripe, warm and juicy like blackberries eaten as fast as they can be picked off the sun warmed brambles. Much to my delight I found that her fiction has the same cadence...one which, to my mind, is reminiscent of Gregorian Monks chanting their prayers. The Letters flings the reader up onto an edge of adrenaline fuelled frisson before dropping you into fur lined ruts where you could happily luxuriate forever. There is a decadent syncopation to The Letters, an indulgence from start to finish.
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on 22 April 2013
I read this all in one go -- I didn't want to escape its clutches until I understood all its twists and mysteries. I felt the same way about Anita Shreve's book, The Pilot's Wife. But The Letters is funny and English and gently domestic as well as enticing.

I first came across Satya through her Small Stones website, and the same poetic attention to detail is a joy throughout The Letters.
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on 29 September 2014
The best bit about this book was the letters. They are poignant, sad and yet full of hope. I didn't like Violet or really any of the other characters which made the book a bit of an effort to read. The descriptions are well written however, and made me want to move house, although not to find myself in a tiny village full of egos and gossipers.
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