Top positive review
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Intimate and mesmerizing
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.