by Jojo Moyes
After being bowled over by Me Before You last year, I’ve wanted to read more Jojo Moyes. The Last Letter From Your Lover did not disappoint.
I will say first that I am not a fan of romance or of love stories. As a terminal cynic, I find the tripe of boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl overcome silly and/or completely unrealistic obstacle, girl and boy live happily ever after completely barf-worthy.
But Moyes writes a different sort of love story. Maybe it’s that her characters are very flawed, which makes them more believable, relatable, and likeable. Maybe it’s that the stories are rife with heart wrenching conflict. Maybe it’s that she manages to address some very real and serious social issues in her stories. Whatever it is, I’m a fan of her particular brand of love story now.
The Last Letter From Your Lover opens in a hospital room in 1960. The young and beautiful Jennifer Stirling has been in a terrible car accident and is only now waking up, weeks later, with no memory of the accident or what led up to it.
Jennifer’s husband Laurence is a wealthy, and important figure in London high society. He takes his young wife home to continue her convalescence. Over time, fragments of memory come back to Jennifer, and she begins to realize that the distance and even hostility she feels from her husband are not products of her imagination or injuries, but stem from something she can’t quite remember. Then she discovers a strange handwritten letter tucked into a paperback book. The letter is clearly written to her, and expresses undying love. It’s signed only, “B.” Jenny becomes obsessed with the letter, as well as others she finds hidden around the house, desperate to remember or find out who wrote them to her and why. Eventually, she does learn the letter-writer’s identity, and is faced with a terrible choice.
About two-thirds of the way through the book, the story suddenly jumps to 2003. Ellie Haworth, a young, beautiful journalist whose life is becoming more and more a mess, happens upon an old archived file in the bowels of the newspaper office for which she works, and in the file are a handful of love letters written by a mysterious man to an unnamed woman back in the 1960s. Ellie becomes fixated on the letters, intent on finding out what happened to the star-crossed lovers. She hopes that if they had a happy ending, then her own messy affair with a married man might end happily.
A central theme of the story is a feminist issue: the double standard that has always existed between men and women, how they conduct themselves, and the roles they are expected to inhabit. In the 1960s, young Jennifer Stirling was very much a trophy wife: beautiful, but not expected to do much more than shop, look impeccable, and make her husband look good. Typical of the times, her husband Laurence pretty much expects her to look good, shut up, and put out. She is not to express her own thoughts or opinions, let alone even have them. And for a while, she thinks this is a fine life to live. Until someone comes along and shakes up everything she believes about herself and her life. And when she decides to take the reins of her own life in hand, it causes scandal. Laurence, on the other hand, can behave like an ass, have a mistress, and nobody thinks much of it.
While much changes on a societal level between the time Jennifer Stirling finds herself in love with someone forbidden and forty years later when Ellie Haworth is involved in an affair, it’s still disappointing to realize that women still tend to expect men to fulfill them and make them happy. In that sense, not much has changed; women are still largely seen, and see themselves, as incomplete without a man.
In any case, I loved this story. Moyes has such a gift for creating multidimensional characters, and believable situations, and transporting the reader to a different time and place. Wonderful book that had the tears rolling down my face.