by Yvette Walker
University of Queensland Press
I thought I would write this review in the form of a letter to Yvette. I hope she gets to read it.
Dear Yvette Walker,
You could just as easily have called your beautiful novel Letters to the End of Hate, because that is what it is. To me, your words have celebrated a place you love, and the things you love about people, and about being in love itself. I wanted to quote you to yourself here, but the page escapes me- I wanted to reference the remark either Lou or Grace makes about loving receiving emails, but letters singing.
The very act of letter writing is very intimate, and that you have paired it with this kind of romantic love and longing seems incredibly apt. Your novel is about three couples- the first live in County Cork in 1969. Dmitri is a painter. His wife, Caithleen is a writer. He is unwell, dying in fact, and the fear that they have of losing each other, leaving one another behind has altered their relationship. The letters appear to be both an attempt to restore a lost intimacy, and to grant a new level of sharing in their relationship. By writing to one another, Dmitri and Caithleen can finally share the deepest secrets of their hearts, the things they feel and fear but cannot admit even to themselves. I think in doing so, they get some comfort, and some closure. They also get a chance to celebrate the things that have made them special as a couple in words.
Contrast this with Grace and Lou- very much the modern couple. Grace is a bookseller in Perth. She loves her family, she loves her home town, and she loves Lou most of all, who seems to be the one person who she feel understands her. But she also feels abandoned by Lou whose job requires her to travel around the world with a local boy who is suddenly a big shot musician. The constant transit of her life means that the two have been communicating with text messages, emails. Lou is lonely but only when she gets a chance to be, and Grace is almost giving up on the idea that this person who makes her happy will ever have to to actually be with her. Their letters are a slowing down process, a reassuring act that requires quiet reflection on their relationship, and making time to write.
The Bournemouth letters are only written by one person, by John in 1948. He writes to his dead lover David, who was a victim of the Nazis. These letters are difficult to read, because, I imagine, they were difficult to write. David and John had to love each other in secret. The way that they loved each other was viewed as being wrong. I get the impression that John has previously viewed his relationships with men as being to serve a purpose and not necessarily to be enjoyed just for the sake of it, and he seems to be overwhelmed by both his capacity to love David and his capacity to feel incomplete without him.
I don't think, though, that I need to explain your own book to you. After all, you wrote it. You wrote it very well and I hope that you are immensely pleased with it because you should be. This book is poetic, it has vivid imagery, and while it is realistic, it is also hopeful. I have already recommended it to a number of people.
P.S. While I don't think that it is necessary for books to be classified as Gay and Lesbian literature, I do think that because your book celebrates love in all its forms that it is appropriate to share this wonderful speech by New Zealand MP Maurice Williamson at the end of this review.