Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book 24: The Last Letter from Your Lover

I was actually very pleasantly surprised by this novel.  I was looking for a light read, because otherwise the title and description would have probably driven me off (even though I really liked the cover photo).  Dual narrative novels seem to be rather popular, and sometimes, they are very well done.  Usually, however, one of the narratives, usually the one set in the past, is much stronger, and the second narrative in fact detracts from the story (Sarah's Key is a prime example).  This isn't completely untrue in this novel, either, but fortunately the one narrative is very strong, and the secondary narrative is not so weak as to take away from that.  In fact, the secondary narrative was probably closer to that light novel I thought I was getting, while the primary narrative was a moving love story.
The other thing that helps this novel's dual narrative is that it isn't done in the traditional manner of alternating between past and present day occurences - the modern story doesn't even begin until the novel is over halfway through.  The novel begins in a hospital room in 1960.  The patient, Jennifer Stirling, has been in a car accident, and doesn't remember her life, her husband or who she is.  Upon her release, she tries to reconnect with her old life, and remember who she is, but she doesn't feel comfortable.  Additionally, her family and friends seem to be expect her to just act normally again, adding to her pressure to remember and to pretend that she does.  While trying to rediscover herself, she stumbles upon a love letter signed "B," thus realizing that she had been involved in an extramarital affair.  She isn't completely sure how she feels about this and her deception, but she is soon looking for answers to the man's identity and the passionate love affair the letter testifies to.  At this point, the narrative flashes back and forth between Jennifer, and a reporter named Anthony who meets her while doing a story on the French Riviera.
Eventually the narrative moves forward to the present with a few stops along the way, and Ellie, a young journalist, stumbles upon one of the letters while doing research for an article.  Ellie has been acting as the other woman in an extramarital affair, and quickly feels a connection to the mysterious letters.  This affair has also caused her to be incredibly distracted and careless, so that this article may very well be the key to keeping her job.  Ellie is not necessarily very easy to like, not even because of the affair, but due to how stupidly she acts because of it, ditching friends, work etc for last minute meet ups.  While it was easy to feel sympathy for Jennifer, Ellie was a bit too self absorbed, and let the affair control her life.  I guess that when it comes down to it I'm really not that much of a romantic because I don't think I could ever imagine letting myself become unreliable and incompetent due to a relationship.  Fortunately, while Ellie isn't exactly that great, she is only in the last part of the novel, and her research does lead to some answers regarding the fate of Jennifer and B.
As I said above, it's definitely a much stronger and better novel than I would have expected from the title, and Jennifer's story is definitely good enough to make it worth the read.  While Ellie isn't an entirely sympathetic character and some things about her seriously bugged me, I don't think her presence weakens the novel.  In fact her story shows just how extraordinarily rare the type of passion Jennifer and B experience actually is. 

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