Fiona Robyn belongs to a rare breed of authors. The Letters is her debut novel but novels 2 and 3 already have scheduled publication dates. No sweating over that tricky second novel then! It also speaks volumes about the confidence of her publisher, Snowbooks. They’re expecting her to do well and they’ve packaged her books in a way that is designed to appeal to a mass female readership.
Now, while I love that red dress (in fact, I would buy it ….), I’m not so happy with the beheaded female syndrome. Indeed so fed up am I of this that I’ve passed on the new Myerson and the recently reissued Jean Plaidys even though there is legitimate connection to Tudor intrigue and decapitated women. I don’t understand the psychology behind ladies buying books with pictures of beheaded females. This is obviously a thorny subject because Snowbooks have already partly answered the question. Plenty of ongoing discussion too on the author’s personal blog.
It, therefore, follows that, like others, I wouldn’t have picked up The Letters had the author not sent me a copy to review. This would have been a great pity because this is an intelligent novel about a 51-year old woman who, having drifted through life thus far, decides to determine her own fate. Following a protracted illness and the breakup of her marriage, Violet moves away from friends and family to a coastal town. But a feisty 51-year old doesn’t escape her personality that easily and the patterns of her relationships with her husband and adult children are repeated in her new friendships and love affairs. It’s really interesting to watch Violet grow and develop a modicum of tact, diplomacy and fellow-feeling. She’s infuriating, impulsive and impassioned, certainly. A nightmare to live with, obviously. Frequently thoughtless but never malicious. Robyn spotlights two relationships: the one between Violet and her lover, Tom, passionate in a way that was foreign to her marriage; and the one between Violet and her layabout adult son. Violet’s story is written in an omniscient 3rd-person, giving us direct access to her inner thoughts – which, I can say as I approach the age of 51, are sometimes too close for comfort! (Hence, no quotes!)
The novel takes its title from a series of letters which are mysteriously delivered to Violet. They tell the story of a single mother as she awaits the arrival of her child in a 1950’s convent-run mother and baby home. At first Violet thinks they have been misdirected. This is not the case but to tell would be to reveal the well-hidden twist that brings the narrative strands together. I did guess but, in reality, only about a chapter before the author disclosed it.
The Letters is a solid first novel and, beheaded woman notwithstanding, I look forward to the second.
Fiona Robyn will be appearing on Lizzy’s Literary Life on Tuesday 31 March. It’s the final stop on her worldwide blog tour. As a special treat, to help her recover from the virtual jetlag, she has requested a slice of lemon polenta cake. Does anyone have a recipe?