Pan | 2018 (26 July) | 590p | Review copy and bought copy | Buy the book
It is the winter of 1995 and Sir James Harrison, the most famous and respected actor of the century, dies in his London home at the age of 95. His presence was larger than life and so, in death, he leaves behind a family who miss him dreadfully, especially his granddaughter Zoe, her son Jamie, and her brother Marcus. They can hardly realise that Sir James has also left behind a secret of such a magnitude that it could strike right at the heart of the British Establishment. The powers that be will do absolutely everything in their power to prevent that happening.
Joanna Haslam is a young journalist learning the ropes at a major national newspaper. She’s given the job of covering Sir James’s funeral, an event that will bring out the rich and the famous in number, including his beautiful granddaughter Zoe, a famous actress in her own right. Joanna finds herself sitting next to an old woman, Rose, who needs her help getting back to her dishevelled flat. And it’s there that Joanna learns of a letter, the contents of which have been fought for for over seventy years. With her curiosity pricked, Joanna sets out to learn the truth about the letter, to identify the people it mentions. As far as the Establishment is concerned, this could be the last thing that Joanna ever does. And she isn’t the only innocent person who will be caught up in their urgent efforts to destroy this love letter once and for all.
I picked up The Love Letter, not only because I was intrigued by its premise, but also because I was in the mood for a grand saga of love and secrets, spies and treachery – an escapist read. At 600 pages long, The Love Letter is certainly of grand saga length and it hooked me instantly. Lucinda Riley’s lovely prose dances along. Its characters are warmly presented and developed – except for those who deserve their cold treatment – and I was soon caught up in the stories of Joanna and the hapless Marcus, in Zoe and her secret and potentially life-changing love affair, in Simon whose secrets are threatening to consume his life, and in the tale of Sir James in the past. There are so many hearts at risk of being broken in this gorgeous novel.
The novel was originally written in 1998 and published as Seeing Double in 2000. Not much was made of it then because the time was not right for it, largely, the author explains, because of Princess Diana’s death and the public perception of the monarchy and the Establishment at that time. Reading it now, it almost has the feel of historical fiction. It is a book set in the 1990s and is also a product of that time and I really, really liked that. It has a nostalgic feel to it for me – the days before mobile phones and the internet took over completely and a time when stories like this really could have happened away from the gaze of the media. Again, as the author says in the foreword, this could not happen now. And so I was very happy to lose myself in this other time, almost an alternate historical past, as we slowly watch this enormous secret unveiled. Perhaps a secret that would have less resonance now (although maybe not) but twenty years ago may have been catastrophic for society.
I was so intrigued to know what it’s all about! Lucinda Riley certainly knows how to spin a tale and to keep the reader hanging on until the very last minute. Joanna is relentless in her hunt for the truth but the ramifications of her endeavours have devastating results for so many people and this erodes Joanna’s confidence and security. I longed for it all to work out for her. Her relationships with Simon and Marcus are so absorbing to read about. We have enough pages here to know these characters deeply. I love that. And also that we can spend an equally large amount of time with Zoe. She deserves it. In some ways elements of her story are extremely topical.
Rarely have I read 600 pages so quickly – in under two days. I lapped it up and loved it. I really enjoyed all of its different locations and its huge array of characters, so many of whom have secrets. It’s such a good story and I love how Lucinda Riley tells it. The perfect holiday read.