Letters, the ultimate storyteller

As long as I can remember, I’ve always been a lover of letters; the writing of them, the posting, the receiving and the keeping of them, to pull out and read whenever you feel the need. There’s something so beautiful to me about written correspondence in this form, even more so in a day and age where they are no longer the most effective means of communication. Taking the time to put pen to paper, to write down the thoughts and moments you would otherwise let slip by, for the simple reason that you think they merit sharing with a particular someone.

Knowing this, it may come as no surprise that books made up entirely of letters are among my very favourite kind. I have always loved reading narratives told in this way; it is a unique way of consuming a story and for an author, it is a special way of telling theirs. Doing so provides a means of getting inside a character’s head and creating a unique feeling of camaraderie and intimacy between reader and protagonist that can otherwise be tricky.

As it so happens, three of the books I have read so far this year have employed this method to tell their stories, all three of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I list them here in the hope that any readers in search of a new story to immerse themselves in may find something that catches their fancy. Happy reading!

Meet Me at the Museum (Anne Youngson)

Professor Anders Larsen, an urbane man of facts, has lost his wife, along with his hopes and dreams for the future. He does not know that a query from a Mrs Tina Hopgood about a world-famous antiquity in his museum is about to alter the course of his life. Oceans apart, an unexpected correspondence flourishes as they discover shared passions: for history and nature; for useless objects left behind by loved ones; for the ancient and modern world, what is lost in time, what is gained and what has stayed the same. Through intimate stories of joy, anguish, and discovery, each one bares their soul to the other. But when Tina's letters suddenly cease, Anders is thrown into despair. Can this unlikely friendship survive?

Why I love it: Unlike the other two books I’ve included here, this one is a quiet story, devoid of colossal drama or set in a world ravaged by recent war. It’s is a simple story about simple people, and it is utterly beautiful in its simplicity. I love it when books tell stories of someone in such a different situation to myself but make me relate to them and care for them so deeply (a certain boy wizard comes to mind). The two letter writers in this book are nearing retirement age, they have grown children and much more of their life behind them than I do, but their thoughts and feelings speak to universal human nature. A joy to read.

Letters from Skye (Jessica Brockmole)

Twenty-four-year-old Elspeth Dunn, a published poet, has never seen the world beyond her home on Scotland’s remote Isle of Skye. So she is astonished when her first fan letter arrives, from a college student, David Graham, in far-away America. As the two strike up a correspondence—sharing their favorite books, wildest hopes, and deepest secrets—their exchanges blossom into friendship, and eventually into love. But as World War I engulfs Europe and David volunteers as an ambulance driver on the Western front, Elspeth can only wait for him on Skye, hoping he’ll survive. In 1940 as war grips the world once more, Elspeth’s daughter Margaret discovers the letters and starts to understand the consequences of the story they tell that neither Elspeth or David could ever have foreseen.

Why I love it: I will confess this one got cheesy in parts, but it’s the kind of cheese you can believe really does occur in the instance of lovers being torn apart by war. I don’t often admit it, but I’m a bit pathetic when it comes to sweeping romances... I just love a good love story, and this one’s pretty great.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society (Mary Ann Shaffer)

London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb… As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society was born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island and Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members. Learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives, she is captivated by their stories and she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Why I love it: I won’t lie, the likely reason I enjoyed this book as much as I did is down to my recent visit to the stunning Channel Island of Guernsey. Having the magic of this place so fresh in my memory, it gave me great joy to read a story which enabled me to return to it through the page. A bit cliché in parts, I’ll give you that, but worth a read. It made me both laugh out loud and shed a tear or two, more than I can say for the recent film adaptation! If you want to truly enjoy Guernsey and learn about the only German occupation of a British territory, give this a read, steer clear of the film (which incidentally, wasn’t even filmed there, and does a shocking job of bringing the loveable characters to life).

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