Books About Letters: "The Book of Last Letters"
It's May and you know what that means....another installment of the Books About Letters series! This month we're looking at Kerry Barrett's "The Book of Last Letters" (H.Q. Digital, 2022). If you enjoy World War II historical fiction this new release could be right up your alley with plucky heroines, crafted writing, and of course: letters.
In this novel we jump between modern-day London with Stevie, an artist working as a care aid at her Nan's home, and 1940s London with Elsie, a young nurse in the early days of the Blitz. When Stevie meets historian Finn at Tall Trees, her grandmother's care home, she becomes invested in uncovering a story from the past with ties to the present. Barrett's novel switches between the story of Nurse Elsie Watson, who created a scrapbook to help capture the last messages of those in her care during the Blitz, and Stevie.
So does "The Last Book of Letters" pass the "Is this a book about letters?" test? Yep! Barrett plays with letters in new and unique ways. Letters are often mentioned and serve recurring purposes without being over abused for exposition. So that's why we're adding this novel to our recommended books about letters list.
You can tell Barrett is proud of her craft, researching and writing about WW2 with detail and respect. There's a significant lack of voyeurism which can sometimes accompany 'nostalgia reads' as I call them, which seem to saturate the Historical Fiction genre. But Barrett's novel while in possession of hallmark genre moments -- cue handsome airmen, nerdy historians, and self-discovery epiphanies -- this novel deals with something I've not yet encountered in the genre...(spoilers ahead!)
In the novel Elsie tasked with a moral quandary of assisting a dying patient to commit suicide. There's a beautiful link with an earlier story in the novel about a wounded bird and the ultimate decision, rooted in compassion and mercy that make this novel stand out to me against what could have made it blend together with similar reads. I commend Barrett for putting together a story with heart that didn't feel heavy-handed.
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