I have loved Jojo Moyes ever since I was sent an advanced copy of ‘Me Before You’, which felt like it broke my heart in two. So, having been entranced, I’ve felt the need to work my way through her novels, and the latest one on the list was ‘Last Letter’, the tale of Jennifer Stirling and Anthony O’Hare’s ill-fated affair spanning from the 60s to the present day. It was a touching and sentimental tale, but I have to admit, I don’t think it will become one of my favourites out of Moyes’ books.
The time setting does a lot for the tension of the affair that the book revolves around; they might have been dubbed the swinging sixties, but things were still done a certain way, and breaking from those roles had severe and long-lasting consequences. Enter Jennifer Stirling, a woman who married according to the rules but fell in love despite them. She’s a main character you root for both in terms of her repression as a woman in this time period, and in terms of her clear vitality when around O’Hare; she’s two separate people rolled into one, and you know which one you want to triumph.
Likewise, O’Hare’s change from pompous reporter to fragile man almost beyond his time is perhaps the most touching element across the whole book. He’s emotional without become a sap, generous without being a pushover; a man who knows what he wants, but also (for the most part) knows how to stop himself from jumping over the edge.
I think what stopped me from fully immersing myself in ‘Last Letter’ was that it felt very self-conscious. It was very aware of what it wanted to be, infrequently coming across as pretentious and a bit too desperate to give a moral message throughout. Indeed, reading it on my kindle showed how many of the moral quotations had been highlighted for their seeming significance, and while they did sum up the movement of the story succinctly, they were too frequent to be quite a resounding as they hoped to be.
I think, as well, that bits were left unexplored. Jennifer’s accident and it’s side effects were dealt with initially but tailed off under the weight of the letters. Likewise, hints at Jennifer’s mother knowing something were left, and Laurence (for all his faults, deservedly or undeservedly) bore the brunt of the social responsibility for events. Likewise, Laurence and Clarissa were both concluded in much the same manner, with poor Moira being ignored completely despite the sadness of her own little story, and as such everything felt a bit repetitive.
I also wasn’t a massive fan of Ellie Haworth, a woman who agonised over things that were patently obvious and yet managed to get everything she wanted, removing the reality of Jennifer and Anthony’s bittersweet missing of one another, slipping through one another’s grasps at every turn. It made the tragedy of their loss over the years seem unnecessary and frivolous. I hadn’t invested in the whiny tones of Ellie, and therefore didn’t see her as learning from their story, more that she just fell on her feet, and just like Laurence the deserved or undeserved nature of this is down to the individual reader.
But for all these niggly little faults, ‘Last Letter’ held at its core a love powerful enough to resist decay or harm, something sustaining and beautiful despite the circumstances and decade in which it arose, which is pleasant enough to amble through at one’s leisure.
‘Last Letter’ was a swift movement through tragedy after tragedy with a bittersweet resolution, but it’s political and moral awareness stopped it from becoming a charming insight into human emotions as the other Moyes’ novels have always been. Sometimes repetitive in scenarios and statements, it will not become a repeated read for me, but is worth setting time aside to indulge in this novel just to believe in the restorative power of love, and the belief that memories sustain us rather than drain us.