I haven’t felt the urge to write a book review in quite a long time. I enjoyed most of the stories I’ve read recently; They were mostly easy to read contemporary romances, because it feels that’s all my busy mind can process right now. Most books didn’t leave too much of an impression, except offering escape for a few hours from a busy, but also kind of boring every day life. And that’s fine.
Looking for a new story to read I found “More Than Love Letters” in my Kindle recommendations yesterday and the short recap and first few pages sounded intriguing enough. Most intriguing maybe was that the whole story is told through letters and e-mails and the occasional newspaper article or meeting memo. The book was written in 2006 and is set in 2005, which explain the absence of “WhatsApp” messages or Skype calls as means of communication in this list :-)
Margaret Hayton is a young primary school teacher in Ipswich, who cares about her community and society. She’s not just helping out at a Women’s Shelter run by a group with the wonderful name “Women of Ipswich Together Combating Homelessness (aka WITCH), but is also sending various letters regarding some local issues – like dog fouling in the park – to the MP for Ipswich, Richard Slater. Richard is a 41 years old backbencher of the Labour Party, fallen in disgrace for not having supported the Iraq war. He’s desperately trying to get back into the Prime Minister’s good graces and right now doesn’t really care about all the tiny insignificant problems one of his constituents is writing him about. And someone called Margaret can only be an old biddy with too much time on her hands anyway, right? His opinion changes when he meets her at one of his surgeries in Ipswich and is quite taken, not just by her appearance, but also her dedication to various causes (at that time helping a young female asylum seeker from Albania) and her personality as such. Being attracted to that woman who’s been bothering him about local issues, was not what he expected and it definitely does distract from his plan to advance his political career. From that meeting on the story unfolds with quite some hilarity, some sad moments, a few misunderstandings but mostly just very lovely.
I’ve worked in politics for a few years and I’m still active in politics on local level, so this “love story in politics” angle was quite interesting to me, because even though I’m in Germany and not in the UK some things on local and national level in politics and media are just the same and a lot of it felt very familiar. How quickly some of the “policy process” took place might have been a bit far fetched, but for the sake of the storyline I was ok with that.
I immensely enjoyed how this story is told through various points of view in letters and e-mails from Margaret and Richard to other people and only much later in the story in correspondence to each other. Margaret is exchanging emails with her best friend from uni, Becs, who is teaching in Manchester and who’s dating her way through the alphabet, which could have been a comedy novel in it’s own right. Margaret is also writing letters with her Gran, who had suffered a stroke recently. Richard is in a steady exchange of emails with a politician friend, asking for advice about his career at first, pouring his heart out later. Margaret’s land lady Cora is writing letters to her husband Pete, who’s away working on an oil rig, and while she’s providing another point of view to the Margaret and Richard story, there is a whole other story to her letters as well.
I don’t think I’ve ever read one of the classic epistolary novels (I had to look up the English term) and the only one I remember reading was a contemporary German novel “Gut gegen Nordwind” in 2009, which I liked all-right. But that one was still an exchange of emails from one person to another, which made the romance part of the novel easier to handle, I think. In “More than Love Letters” there are many more people corresponding with either Margaret or Richard and that made it so fascinating to read. To get various bits and pieces and points of views of how this relationship unfolds, but to also get entertaining side stories, like Becs and her various dates and relationships. The other women of the WITCH group also are quite interesting characters even though they don’t play a huge part. They all are fleshed out as real characters with their own complicated lives and issues and that made the whole story all the more interesting to read.
What more can I say? It’s been one of those stories I really didn’t want to end and I wish I could have stayed with Margaret and Richard and Gran and Becs for a little while longer. But there is always the chance to just read it all over again, right? But most probably I’ll read another one of Rosy Thornton’s other novels first.