Sheltering Rain

The Last Letter From Your Lover
by Jojo Moyes
(Viking, $26.95, PG) ISBN 978-0-670-02280-9
Eight years ago I reviewed British author Jojo Moyes’ debut novel for The Romance Reader and gave it a lukewarm 2 hearts. In my review I noted that although Moyes was a talented wordsmith, her plotting and pacing were awkward, and suggested hopefully that perhaps her skills would improve with experience. Apparently I have good predictive skills, because Moyes’ new release, The Last Letter From Your Lover, is a wonderfully old-fashioned romantic novel that is easy to recommend.

Jennifer Stirling wakes up in a London hospital with no recollection of how she got there. Her husband, Laurence, doesn’t seem familiar and neither do her friends. But this is 1960, and British women don’t make a fuss about anything, even amnesia, so Jessica gradually lets herself sink into her life as a wealthy society wife, even if everything seems a bit off. Then one day she finds a letter hidden in a book addressed only to “Dearest” and signed “B.” The letter is passionate, direct and heartfelt – everything Jennifer’s relationship with Laurence is not. While her life doesn’t seem quite real, the letter connects with her on a deep, elemental level.

The narrative then jumps backwards to several months before Jennifer’s hospitalization. Divorced, semi-alcoholic newspaper reporter Anthony O’Hare meets Jennifer when is assigned to write a story about her husband’s business success. Although at first he dismisses her as a typical spoiled housewife without a thought in her head, a chance encounter causes Anthony to reassess his initial impressions. The very dissimilar pair fall in love, but their affair is doomed unless they are both willing to risk everything.

Two-thirds of the way through the novel, the setting shifts to the present day, where young journalist Ellie Haworth is watching her career go down the tubes as she obsessively pursues a dead-end relationship with a married man. In the newspaper’s archives, she finds a love letter imploring the unknown recipient to meet the writer at Paddington Station so they can run away together. Given a deadline to write a compelling article, Ellie decides to try to learn the story behind the letter. In her exploration, she not only uncovers a love that has never died, she also finally admits the dead-end nature of her own affair – and opens herself up to new possibilities.

The most impressive aspect of this novel is how Moyes manages to make such a romantic story out of flawed characters. Jennifer is married, and Anthony by his own admission is a serial philanderer. And yet the relationship they briefly but memorably forge is undeniably a love story. Credit goes primarily to the letters themselves. Despite society’s restrictions, how can you not root for a couple whose relationship inspires this type of passion?

“To have someone out there who understands you, who desires you, who sees you as a better version of yourself, is the most astonishing gift. Even if we are not together, to know that, for you, I am that man is a source of sustenance to me.”

Moyes also makes Jennifer’s choices understandable in the context of her time. Her husband ignores her, her doctor tells her not to dwell on things and prescribes sedatives, and her friends shun her when she dares to question their meaningless shallow lives. Finding a man who loves and understands her is worth almost any cost.

Jennifer and Anthony’s love story is so compelling that I found myself disappointed when the perspective switches to Ellie, who comes across as much less sympathetic, especially when she tries to rationalize her affair by claiming that her lover’s wife is more interested in the children than her husband. She does have a life-changing epiphany as she works to uncover the mystery and reunite the lovers, but it’s hard to forgive her earlier callousness.

Reminiscent of the movie “Brief Encounter”(albeit with a much better ending), Last Letter From Your Lover is a deliciously romantic three-hanky read. I’m thrilled to see that Moyes’ has improved so much since her debut and hope she has more captivating stories to tell in the future.

--Susan Scribner

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