Thursday, 16 April 2015

Book review: Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey


My edition: Paperback (proof), to be published on 23 April 2015 by Simon & Schuster, 549 pages.

Description: 1943, in the ruins of Blitzed London…

Stella Thorne and Dan Rosinski meet by chance and fall in love by accident. Theirs is a reluctant, unstoppable affair in which all the odds are stacked against them: she is newly married, and he is an American bomber pilot whose chance of survival is just one in five.

… He promised to love her forever

Seventy years later Dan makes one final attempt to find the girl he has never forgotten, and sends a letter to the house where they shared a brief yet perfect happiness. But Stella has gone, and the letter is opened by Jess, a young girl hiding from problems of her own. And as Jess reads Dan's words, she is captivated by the story of a love affair that burned so bright and dimmed too soon. Can she help Dan find Stella before it is too late?

Now forever is finally running out.

Rating:



After Antonia Honeywell's brilliant dystopian novel The Ship and Stuart Prebble's suspenseful and disturbing The Insect Farm, Letters to the Lost was the third novel I received in the post for the Curtis Brown Book Group and it was another fantastic read that sprouted a fantastic book group discussion. 

With a dual time-frame narrative, not too dissimilar to another book I recently reviewed, The Dandelion Years by Erica James, Letters to the Lost tells a story set in the past through a series of letters between two lovers, which are found by someone in the present timeline.

The letters reveal the blossoming relationship between Stella and Dan against the backdrop of the Second World War. She is a naive British girl marrying the local Reverend, wanting nothing more than to play house and have a family of her own to take care of, he is an American soldier, taller and more handsome than his British counterparts and so he attracts a lot of attention from the local women – even the married Stella.

The two share an intimacy beyond a physical relationship through the regular correspondence of handwritten letters; war-time postal deliveries permitting, of course. It's a beautiful way of communication that is almost lost in today's fast-paced, digital age, so when a young woman by the name of Jess comes across the stack of letters Dan wrote to Stella decades earlier she soon finds herself completely pulled into the wartime world of these two lovers.

And she isn't the only one engrossed by the incredible story unfolding within the handwritten exchanges, the reader too is quickly absorbed by the stunning piece of writing that is Letters to the Lost. The dual time-frame narrative works exceptionally well as it unravels Dan and Stella's beautiful connection at a carefully measured pace, creating a hugely gripping read that despite its size (it's a very hefty paperback) you desperately want to finish in one go.

With each passing letter the two lovers endure more hardships, and Stella's life in particular turned into a harrowing story, which made me feel an intense dislike towards the person inflicting all these terrible things upon her. Just when I thought it couldn't get any worse something else horrifying happened, which packed a real emotional punch within the story and even weeks later I'm still thinking about.

The present timeline was equally gripping; Jess, the girl who finds the letters and starts the journey back to the Second World War, is a complicated and fascinating character and I felt invested in her storyline from the moment we find her running away to a hopeful and better place. I wanted nothing more than for Jess to find the happiness she deserved after all the suffering she had to endure in her young life, and so while I felt at times desperate for more chapters set in the past so I could get back to Dan and Stella, when the story was set in the 1940s again I equally felt the desire to return to the present and Jess.

Author Iona Grey has really done a stellar job intertwining the two timelines to create a compelling novel. They're both hugely gripping not only because of the unfolding romances in both but also because she doesn't make things easy for her characters. By doing so she has created a group of well-rounded and fascinating people with depth, their less-than-happy stories adding a punch of realism to what could've otherwise easily been a soppy love story.

The novel's conclusion was heart-clutchingly beautiful and devastatingly sad in equal measures as it was never going to be the happy ending I so desperately wished the characters to have. I definitely shed a tear, or two, and even after turning the final page Dan and Stella's story in particular wouldn't let me go. The characters were written so vividly by Iona Grey, their relationship feeling completely authentic, that I felt a real connection to them, like these were real life people rather than fictional characters.

And when that happens, when you almost, truly believe that what you've been reading in a novel has happened to people you know, it's a testament that the book is an exceptional one.

You can purchase the novel from Waterstones, Amazon.co.uk or your own preferred retailer.



Would you like to know more about the author? You can connect with her online at:

Twitter: @iona_grey


Many thanks to the Curtis Brown Book Group for an advance copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

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