Review – The Letter by Kathryn Hughes

By | May 14, 2015

Tina Craig longs to escape her violent husband. She works all the hours God sends to save up enough money to leave him, also volunteering in a charity shop to avoid her unhappy home. Whilst going through the pockets of a second-hand suit, she comes across an old letter, the envelope firmly sealed and unfranked. Tina opens the letter and reads it – a decision that will alter the course of her life for ever…

Billy Stirling knows he has been a fool, but hopes he can put things right. On 4th September 1939 he sits down to write the letter he hopes will change his future. It does – in more ways than he can ever imagine…

The Letter tells the story of two women, born decades apart, whose paths are destined to cross and how one woman’s devastation leads to the other’s salvation.

Having read other people’s reviews of this one, I never imagined I’d find the review so difficult to write. Maybe some of the publicity should have given me a bit of a clue that it might not be entirely the book for me…  

Every so often a love story comes along to remind us that sometimes, in our darkest hour, hope shines a candle to light our way. 

But this book was a self-published sensation, and already has close to 2000 5 star reviews on Amazon.  The Letter by Kathryn Hughes was originally published by Matador: world rights (including film and tv) have now been bought by Headline, who will relaunch the e-book on 19th March, with the paperback to follow in October. 

The story itself has immense potential. A letter, written in 1939 and never sent, found in the pocket of a suit left in a charity shop; a modern story line involving an abused wife, sufficiently intrigued by the letter to try and solve its mystery; the wartime story of the young woman to whom the letter was written. 

I really wanted to love it – it’s the kind of story I usually adore – but it never really engaged me emotionally. The characters were too stereotypical for me to ever fully believe in them – angels or devils, and very little in-between. Some of the plot twists were signalled in neon letters before they happened, and then unfolded so desperately slowly that I really just wanted to move on and found myself skipping chunks.  There was an awful lot of telling rather than showing, sometimes with quite lengthy bits of rather unrealistic dialogue where people seemed to tell each other their life stories. And on top of that, there were frequent recaps in the dialogue of things that hadn’t happened long before – I found myself thinking “I know, I know – just move on!”. 

On the positive side, I thought the more modern scenario of domestic abuse was handled well, examined unflinchingly and very realistically. The wartime story though seemed too modern in its language at times, and the period detail (for example, the onset of the blackout features heavily) just didn’t seem particularly authentic. I read it, but couldn’t feel it – and the same applies when the story moves to Ireland.  As for the search that occurs towards the end of the book, it really seemed to rely entirely on coincidence and happenstance in its resolution.  

I very rarely review a book I really didn’t enjoy – but with so many five star reviews, I really don’t think mine is going make any particular waves. In summary, I think the best I can say is great idea (three stars of anyone’s allocation), but the execution could have been so very much better – I really can’t understand why so many people have loved it so much. That said, it would undoubtedly make a wonderful TV drama series – if someone doesn’t decide to make the film first.   

My thanks to netgalley and publishers Headline for my advance reading copy – I’m just sorry I didn’t like it better. 

One thought on “Review – The Letter by Kathryn Hughes

  1. dawn obrien

    aw…I've just bought this cos I thought it sounded fantastic..thanks for an honest review but wish I'd seen it before I bought it! x

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