Based on her prize-winning short story, Australian author Yvette Walker’s debut novel is an intimate exploration of love and loss.
In 1969, when a married couple receive devastating news, they begin sending letters to each other as a means of coping, despite living under the same roof. In 1948, John, stricken with grief, writes letters to the love of his life, who will never receive them. And in 2011, Grace writes letters to her estranged partner Louise, hoping that the process will help her understand what went wrong.
Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love is an intimate exploration of love and loss. Told through a series of letters, the Australian author’s debut novel (evolved from her prize-winning short story ‘Dear Reader’) tracks the lives of three couples scattered throughout space and time as they struggle to comprehend themselves, their relationships, and the world around them.
Letters to the End of Love is a quiet book full of the ‘ordinary poetry’ of everyday life and yet is completely absorbing. The characters are so honest in their letters to their partners that it is impossible to remain unmoved by their admissions of inadequacy, fear, and the most beautiful kind of weathered love.
Letter writing has a therapeutic function for Walker’s characters, allowing them the opportunity and space to truly reflect on their most intimate romantic moments, pursue their streams of consciousness, and express the things they cannot say aloud, even to the person they most sincerely care for.
‘I love your emails but this letter of yours, it breathes.’
Walker succeeds in convincingly writing from five unique perspectives, having carefully tailored a distinct style of expression for each of her characters true to the time period and setting in which they are writing. The novel is well-paced with details about the lives of each character revealed slowly and sparingly amongst their reflections on their everyday experiences. The compulsion is to keep on reading, not only to learn more about the history of each character, but also to discover whether the act of writing their letters provides the closure and understanding they seek from the experience.
Cleverly, Walker establishes a tangible link between the three stories by having the Paul Klee painting Ad Marginem mentioned in each, cementing artistic expression and interpretation in its many forms as central to the journey of each character.
As well as exploring the domestic, Letters to the End of Love prompts reflection on the long-standing personal impact wrought by devastating historical events such as the Holocaust. Walker’s characters are forever changed by the grief they’ve experienced, carrying it around with them day after day.
‘I’m sorry if this hurts but this is our problem now. Six years on, it’s gone beyond grief and turned into melancholy, into something unworkable, into something which has taken over everything. Even us.’
However, this does not translate to a depressing reading experience. Acknowledging the hardships of life, serves to make the triumphs and ‘ordinary poetry’ of the everyday all the more poignant and meaningful. Walker’s characters are able to explore intimate issues because they are confident in the support and unconditional love of their partner, and that love is what stays with the reader long after the last page is turned.
From its cover art to the words written on its pages, Letters to the End of Love is a truly beautiful novel that serves as testament to the power of enduring love, and confirms that regardless of our differences and our individual experiences, we all appreciate how difficult it can be for things to come to an end.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Letters to the End of Love
By Yvette Walker
Paperback, 252 pages, RRP $22.95
University of Queensland Press