Books About Letters: "Letters to the Lost"
February is all about the love letters! In this month's installment of the Books About Letter series we turn to the Iona Grey bestseller "Letters to the Lost" (2015, Thomas Dunne Books). I was super excited to find this hardback at a local second hand bookshop when I was in the States over the December break. Read on for my thoughts on this World War II love letter story.
In "Letters to the Lost" we meet Stella, our World War II protagonist. The letters in the novel help build a framework that Grey flushes out in alternative chapters, between Stella and her American airman beau Dan. When Jess Moran our 'modern-day' voice, is on the run from a questionable boyfriend, she finds herself in proximity to a tempting shoebox of love letters. Stella and Dan's letters. So begins the novel.
"Letters to the Lost" is almost the definition of a "book about letters". I feel like I say that 11 out of the 12 times a year I write these posts! How lucky are we? "Letters to the Lost" is a novel that uses letters as a structural tool as well as an expository tool. Grey tells the passage of time with the letters and blessedly to her credit the letters aren't chewy with exposition. Thankfully the alternating chapter style allows Grey some room to explore themes and complexities outside of an unrealistic 8 page missive. Regular readers will know I take a very pointed issue with the unrealistic letter in novels. It is the hill I will die on.
Grey's characters are dusted with the allure of romance dipped in World War II nostalgia. There's a tendency to fetishize the war romance and Grey's novel does a cracking job at giving you the sweet with the sour -- Dan's paranoia and fear at the uncertainty of his mortality is a nice, tangible nugget. I liked it in much the way I appreciated the relationship around PTSD in soliders in December's Book About Letters "Last Christmas in Paris".
As we enter the second year of this series I can confess that I've noticed I tend to lean more towards the epistolary novels rather than the novels that use letters within themselves. I was recently chatting to a historical fiction writer who said -- shocking me -- that editors often dissuade epistolary novels as they aren't seen as mass-marketable. I nearly fainted when I heard that! As readers will know for this series I read a book a month. That's 12 individual books about letters a year! I wanted to dive into "Letters to the Lost" with a bit more gusto than I managed. It's well written with points for structure and character development, a few lapses in pacing but overall an almost textbook Book About Letters addition.
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