Letters from an Unknown Woman by Gerard Woodward
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
With the author boasting acclaims from The Whitebread First Novel Award, Man Booker Prize, and T.S. Eliot Prize, I expected a page-turner, and I got one. Letters from an Unknown Woman is written in three parts:
One, where we meet our protagonist Tory Pace. The setting is the London area during World War II. Tory's life has become unknown to her- her children are evacuated and being fostered far away, her dry and humorless mother comes to live with her, she performs her war duty in a gelatin factory, and she learns her mild-mannered husband has become a prisoner of war. The major plot of this section revolves around a stern request (more of a demand) from her imprisoned husband that she write him racy letters as "an antidote to those horrors" of the war. She resists most forcefully until a chance meeting with a former boxing champion ignites her passion and gives her real-life dirty deeds to pen. However, if you are looking forward to the smutty bits, you will be disappointed! The content of Tory's letters is left to the imagination...but the results of her affair are not.
Part two chronicles the years when Tory's husband Donald returns from the prison camp. He is scarcely the man she married, having become depressed and secretive. This section moves somewhat slowly, focusing heavily on Tory's sons, Tom and Branson, and the trials of living with a hateful and mentally unstable man. Tory finds refuge in her new job as a restroom attendant and her new friendship with a woman named Grace.
Part three, the shortest of the sections, begins with Tory's discovery that her husband has taken her letters of "bedroom thoughts" and published them for an underground audience. Horrified, she regains her spunk and resolve. She reclaims some control of her household and relationships. The novel ends with the death of Tory's mother and the discovery of the woman's own titillating correspondence. We are left wondering if these letters give Tory persmission (in her own mind) to write the requested follow-up to her original book of naughty letters.
This book was well-written and a quick read, with most of the characters clearly filled in. However, the ending was just too ambiguous for my taste. There is only a paragraph between the resolution of Branson's situation and the last sentence of the book, which seemed an abrupt conclusion to an otherwise well-paced and flowing read.
Overall, worth a look. Woodward captured my interest enough to check out some of his other works, including August, I'll Go to Bed at Noon, and A Curious Earth.Gerard Woodward
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