You might remember reading Ruth Saberton’s guest post about her latest book, The Letter, back in February here on Being Anne – you can read it again here. That post was enjoyed by so many people, and I was inundated with emails from other authors asking if they could do something similar – but what made that particular post so very special was the fascinating and poignant background story, and I was really looking forward to reading the book that drew on it as its inspiration. And I’m delighted to report that I loved every single moment… my thanks to Ruth and Christian for my reading e-copy, and for their exceptional patience in awaiting my long overdue review.
A forgotten love story…
1914: In Cornwall, on the eve of the First World War, eighteen-year-old Kit Rivers has a bright future ahead. As the Lord of the Manor’s heir, Kit knows his duty is to the family estate – although he longs to become a poet. When he falls passionately in love, Kit is determined not to let parental opposition spoil an idyllic summer. Yet before the golden days can fade into autumn, war comes to change Kit’s world and writing forever.
The Present: One century later, widowed Chloe Pencarrow exchanges London for the solitude of a Cornish cliff top rectory. Haunted by memories, Chloe’s interest in obscure war poet, Kit Rivers, proves a welcome distraction and leads her to piece together a forgotten history. Faced with more questions than answers, her own life soon becomes entwined with Kit’s through love, loss, and the darkest of deceptions.
I never fail to love a book that makes me want to unplug the telephone, curl up in my comfiest chair, and not move again until I’ve read the very last page – and this gorgeous book most definitely fits into that category. There are times, when you’re really looking forward to a book, that it just doesn’t quite live up to your expectations – but this wonderful book exceeded them in every possible way.
Following on from the stunning prologue, and into the present day story, Chloe won my heart from the very start – recently widowed, struggling with life and the need to move on, seeking solitude, seeing her husband everywhere, a convincing and moving portrait of bereavement and grief. I really loved her “voice” – wry, self-deprecating and sometimes very funny, but at other times heartbreakingly sad, her story full of observations and situations that bring both a smile to the face and a tear to the eye. But move on she does – helped by a rather lovely interfering female vicar, an interesting new relationship, and a kindling of interest in a nearby house and the life of war poet Kit Rivers.
The story then shifts to pre-1914, and the approach of the Great War – and focuses on a wonderful love story, told with immense tenderness and a love you can feel, impacted by both the horrors of war and the class divide. And then – but when the time’s right, and not in the least abruptly – the story returns to the present day, with the careful disentangling of all the threads and uncovering of the remaining mystery, the moving forward of Chloe’s story, and the heartbreaking legacy of sadness and wasted lives as the full wartime story unfolds.
In terms of construction, I thought the book was absolutely perfect – and it was definitely the right decision not to fragment the story at the book’s heart with shifts between past and present, as that might just have lessened its immense emotional impact. The characters within the historical story are so perfectly drawn, coming to life on the page and within the heart, particularly the story’s strong heroine: the backdrop of the wild Cornish clifftops and hidden coves is vividly and beautifully described, the author’s research into the realities of life at that point in history so well used, with moments in the story’s telling that are heartbreaking and deeply moving. The pacing of the whole story is simply perfect, the writing excellent – easy to read in all the right ways, but with such a deft touch in the emotional handling.
I’ve seen references to the writing being in the tradition of Daphne du Maurier and Rosamunde Pilcher – and quite rightly so. But this book also made me think of some of my personal favourites, like Lucinda Riley and Kate Morton – and I think those comparisons are totally justified too. But this book is entirely Ruth Saberton’s story and personal achievement – do read the author’s notes explaining the history that conclude the book, as they’re really fascinating. She has lovingly turned that chance find among the blankets in a cupboard, and her uncovered family history, into a sweeping and quite wonderful story – and a fitting and moving tribute both to those whose lives have been changed by the horrors of war and every person who ever loved and lost. Without a moment’s doubt, this will be one of my books of the year.
About the author
Ruth Saberton lives in Cornwall, close to the River Fowey, where she is constantly inspired by the surrounding seascape and countryside. The Letter is partly based on the true story of Ruth’s Great-Aunt Ella, whose fiancé was lost in action on the Western Front, as well as being an homage to the men and women who sacrificed so much in the conflict.
Ruth has been published by Orion, Pan Macmillan and Harper Collins, as well as writing under various pseudonyms with Working Partners and Little Black Dress. She has been a runner up in the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s prestigious RONAs. Her debut novel was championed by TV’s Richard and Judy. Ruth’s novels have been regularly featured in the national and regional press. Ruth has written a regular column for the Western Morning News, featured on BBC Radio Cornwall, and spoken at writing and arts festivals. She is regularly featured in Amazon promotions and publicity.
The Letter is published independently in conjunction with Notting Hill Press. In doing so, Ruth has the freedom to have the paperback edition typeset and printed in Cornwall. Her books are stocked in a multitude of West Country outlets, from The Duchy Nursery to independent book shops, as well as more widely.
If, like me, you’re new Ruth’s writing, or perhaps haven’t ventured beyond Katy Carter or Polwenna Bay, you’ll find more details on her excellent website. You’ll also find her on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.