Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Review: The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

While we are certainly not even close to perfect today when dealing with mental illnesses like PTSD or post-partum depression or addiction, we are certainly more open and advanced than we were just a few decades ago. Once we locked people up or sent them away, not knowing how to treat these illnesses. But even in doing so, we learned and pursued new ideas meant to help those suffering and remind them of the messy, magnificence of a life lived fully open. In Kayte Nunn's newest novel, not only does one character, suffering post-partum depression and guilt learn to live and love again, but decades later, two much younger women learn to open themselves respectively to love and experience, to embrace the new and the scary in order to have a chance at their happiest lives.

Opening in the fall of 1951, Esther Durrant and her husband are taking an odd and unexpected vacation together, ending up on isolated Little Embers Island in the Scilly Islands. But it's not really a vacation. John, in desperation, is committing Esther to the care of his old friend Dr. Richard Cresswell because Esther has not been well since the birth of her second child. Esther is completely betrayed and blindsided by being left on this remote and calm island with nothing on it save the asylum and two abandoned cottages. Initially distraught and angry, she comes to care for her fellow patients, three men who fought in WWII and the cook, although she does not much like the nurse. As her heart opens to the island and its healing quietness, she also opens her heart in other ways.  But her former life, her husband, and her toddler son beckon.

In 2018, Rachel, a marine biologist in her mid-thirties, leaves the tropical island where she's been living and researching for the past year or two for London and then her newest post researching warty venus clams and climate change in the Scilly islands off the Cornish coast. She has hopped from research job to research job, intentionally never forming an attachment to people or places and she expects this assignment to be no different. Rachel is out in a small tin boat starting preliminary research when she is caught in a sudden, fierce storm and the boat's engine quits, prompting her to try to swim to the closest island, Little Embers. Injured and stranded on the island with a woman named Leah, a gruff hermit of sorts, Rachel finds a book and unsent letters in an antique suitcase in the house. Reading them, she is transported by the strength of the love she reads in them.

Also in 2018, twenty something Eve has given up her trip to Africa with her boyfriend in order to take care of her beloved grandmother, who is recovering from a nasty fall. Her grandmother was once a celebrated mountaineer so while her Grams recovers, Eve intends to help her write her memoir as well as potentially figure out what she wants to do with her life.

The novel is set in two different times but it is really a triple-stranded narrative. Esther's time and experiences at Little Embers, what really happened after her second child's birth, and the decisions facing her as she comes back to life dominate the story. Rachel's tale of tightly guarding her heart, her near miss in the storm, and how finding the letters to "E" from "R" changed her comes in a close second. Eve's story of taking care of her elderly Grams has less weight in this braided narrative but is still vital to the story line as a whole. It isn't hard to figure out where the story is going in any of the three narratives but its predictability makes it no less charming a tale to read. Esther and Rachel in particular are well drawn and pleasant to spend time with as they try and see what their futures should look like. Esther is constrained by her times in a way that Rachel is not and although the contrast is subtle, in the end it is very definitely there: two bold, courageous women choosing their own paths, a lesson that the younger Eve is only just realizing. There are a couple of plot threads here that are a little too easily resolved and it is more a love story (or more properly the love story of a lifetime and a possible love story) than a historical novel but it was an engaging and pleasing read.

For more information about Kayte Nunn and the book, check our her author site, follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, look at the book's Goodreads page, follow the rest of the blog tour, or look at the reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Trish from TLC Book Tours and publisher William Morrow for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. This sounds intense! Thank you for being on this tour. Sara @ TLC Book tours


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