The Last Letter from Your Lover
A sophisticated, page-turning double love story spanning forty years-an unforgettable Brief Encounter for our times.
It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply "B", asking her to leave her husband.
Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper's archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie's search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.
A spellbinding, intoxicating love story with a knockout ending, The Last Letter from Your Lover will appeal to the readers who have made One Day and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society bestsellers.
One of the voices dropped. “That singer. The one who looks like Paul Newman.”
“I thought I heard something on the wireless about it. Lend me your thermometer, will you, Vi, mine’s acting up again.”
“I’m going to try and have a peek at him at lunchtime. Matron’s had newspapermen outside all morning. I’ll wager she’s at her wits’ end.”
She couldn’t understand what they were saying. The pain in her head had become a thumping, rushing sound, building in volume and intensity until all she could do was close her eyes again and wait for it, or her, to go away. Then the white came in, like a tide, to envelop her. With some gratitude she let out a silent breath and allowed herself to sink back into its embrace.
“Are you awake, dear? You have a visitor.”
There was a flickering reflection above her, a phantasm that moved briskly, first one way and then another. She had a sudden recollection of her first wristwatch, the way she had reflected sunlight through its glass casing onto the ceiling of the playroom, sending it backward and forward, making her little dog bark.
The blue was there again. She saw it move, accompanied by the swishing. And then there was a hand on her wrist, a brief spark of pain so that she yelped.
“A little more carefully with that side, Nurse,” the voice chided. “She felt that.”
“I’m terribly sorry, Dr. Hargreaves.”
“The arm will require further surgery. We’ve pinned it in several places, but it’s not there yet.”
A dark shape hovered near her feet. She willed it to solidify, but, like the blue shapes, it refused to do so, and she let her eyes close.
“You can sit with her, if you like. Talk to her. She’ll be able to hear you.”
“How are her . . . other injuries?”
“There’ll be some scarring, I’m afraid. Especially on that arm. And she took quite a blow to the head, so it may be a while before she’s herself again. But given the severity of the accident, I think we can say she’s had a rather lucky escape.”
There was a brief silence.
Someone had placed a bowl of fruit beside her. She had opened her eyes again, her gaze settling on it, letting the shape, the color, solidify until she grasped, with a stab of satisfaction, that she could identify what was there. Grapes, she said. And again, rolling the silent word around the inside of her head: grapes. It felt important, as if it were anchoring her in this new reality.
And then, as quickly as they had come, they were gone, obliterated by the dark blue mass that had settled beside her. As it moved closer, she could just make out the faint scent of tobacco. The voice, when it came, was tentative, perhaps a little embarrassed, even. “Jennifer? Jennifer? Can you hear me?”The words were so loud; strangely intrusive.
“Jenny, dear, it’s me.”
She wondered if they would let her see the grapes again. It seemed necessary that she did; blooming, purple, solid. Familiar.
“Are you sure she can hear me?”
“Quite sure, but she may find communicating rather exhausting to begin with.”
There was some murmuring that she couldn’t make out. Or perhaps she just stopped trying.
Nothing seemed clear. “Can . . . you . . . ,” she whispered.
“But her mind wasn’t damaged? In the crash? You know that there will be no . . . lasting . . . ?”
“As I said, she took a good bump to the head, but there were no medical signs for alarm.” The sound of shuffled papers. “No fracture. No swelling to the brain. But these things are always a little unpredictable, and patients are affected quite differently. So, you’ll just need to be a little—”
“Please . . .” Her voice was a murmur, barely audible.
“Dr. Hargreaves! I do believe she’s trying to speak.”
“. . . want to see . . .”
A face swam down to her. “Yes?”
“. . . want to see . . .” The grapes, she was begging. I just want to see those grapes again.
“She wants to see her husband!” The nurse sprang upward as she announced this triumphantly. “I think she wants to see her husband.”
There was a pause, then someone stooped toward her. “I’m here, dear. Everything is . . . everything’s fine.”
The body retreated, and she heard the pat of a hand on a back. “There, you see? She’s getting back to herself already. All in good time, eh?” A man’s voice again. “Nurse? Go and ask Sister to organize some food for tonight. Nothing too substantial. Something light and easy to swallow. . . . Perhaps you could fetch us a cup of tea while you’re there.” She heard footsteps, low voices, as they continued to talk beside her. Her last thought as the light closed in again was, Husband?
Later, when they told her how long she had been in the hospital, she could barely believe it. Time had become fragmented, unmanageable, arriving and departing in chaotic clumps of hours. It was Tuesday breakfast. Now it was Wednesday lunchtime. She had apparently slept for eighteen hours—this was said with some disapproval, as if there were an implied rudeness in being absent for so long. And then it was Friday. Again.
Sometimes when she woke it was dark, and she would push her head up a little against the starched white pillow and watch the soothing movements of the ward at night; the soft-shoe shuffle of the nurses moving up and down the corridors, the occasional murmur of conversation between nurse and patient. She could watch television in the evenings if she liked, the nurses told her. Her husband was paying for private care—she could have almost anything she liked. She always said, No, thank you: she was confused enough by the unsettling torrent of information without the endless chatter of the box in the corner.
As the periods of wakefulness stretched and grew in number, she became familiar with the faces of the other women on the little ward. The older woman in the room to her right, whose jet-black hair was
“With its realistically complicated characters and emotionally complex plot, The Last Letter from Your Lover is hopelessly and hopefully romantic.”
“Crafting a love story that feels not just compelling but true is a very difficult thing indeed—and yet, with The Last Letter from Your Lover, Jojo Moyes has done it twice. I found myself utterly transfixed by both sets of lovers in this marvelous novel. Moyes is a tremendously gifted storyteller, and I'm all admiration.”
—Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife
“A fabulous, emotional, and evocative book—perfect for anyone who loves Mad Men.”
—Sophie Kinsella, bestselling author of Confessions of a Shopaholic
“This story of passion and missed chances—with a twist that provides fresh perspective 40 years later—is entrancing.”
—Parade (Top Pick)
“A prize-winning, cross-generational love story of missed connections and delayed gratification [that] hits a seam of pure romantic gold. . . . A cliffhanger-strewn tale of heartache in two strikingly different eras [and] a tour de force.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“Elegiac . . . emotionally ablaze . . . Moyes’s genuinely captivating tale resonates deeply in today’s fast-paced, less gracious world.”
“What’s astonishing about this ingeniously crafted dual love story . . . is how swiftly and effortlessly Jojo Moyes pulls you in. . . . Like an afternoon spent watching a beloved old movie, made wonderfully new.”
—Barnes & Noble Review
“Toggling between two eras, Moyes cleverly juxtaposes the conventions of old-fashioned and thoroughly modern romance.”
“A modern yet ageless story of the human heart and its tenacity to hold on to a love that will not die or be replaced. Beautifully written . . . Jojo Moyes’s novel gives the satisfaction of a fine wine and meal before the fireplace on a winter’s night.”
—Leila Meacham, New York Times bestselling author of Roses
“Exciting, moving, intriguing; the atmosphere’s perfect, the plotting is masterly, the characters are brilliant.”
—Penny Vincenzi, author of The Best of Times
“An engrossing double love story . . . a captivating tale of missed connections. The Last Letter from Your Lover is itself a love letter to the all-but-disappearing handwritten message.”
How did you prepare for writing this novel? Did any friends or family share stories of their own love letters?
Yes, I was fairly shameless in getting people to show me theirs. I put an advertisement in a national newspaper in England and on social networking sites, asking for examples, and begged them from relatives and friends. I think when you are writing there's nothing like real life to inspire you (and show you how odd the vagaries of the human heart can be). I also looked at my own old love letters from twenty years ago. What fascinated me was not just the passion and urgency that leapt off the page, but the sense of reading about the life of someone I no longer really recognized.
In this era of e-mail and texting, how do you feel the art of letter writing (love or otherwise) has changed?
Completely. I first got a hint of this when a young female relative told me she'd never received a love letter, and I realized that this was a generational thing; that mine was probably the last generation to write and receive love letters as a matter of course. I think the great danger of new technologies, whether they be Facebook or e-mail or text, is the potential for reading too much between the lines. Ellie, for example, ascribes all sorts of feelings to her lover that aren't actually there. I think technology often makes the language of romance murkier, not clearer.
Jennifer and Ellie demonstrate the great shift in women's place in society over the past forty years. What do you think are the biggest differences between Ellie and Jennifer, both in terms of the expectations placed on them by society and the expectations they have for their own lives?
What Ellie has is freedom; to sleep with whomever she wants, without shame, to work, to earn her own money, to make her own mistakes. Jennifer's might look like an enviable life, with her money and cosseted existence, but she is there merely to, as she puts it, "look decorative." Her husband is not just uninterested in her opinions, but actively wishes that she shouldn't express them. But it doesn't occur to her to question this until she meets Boot. Both women discover that there is a genuine satisfaction from working, being able to look themselves in the eye, and expecting more of themselves.
Thanks to the popularity of the TV series Mad Men, the early 1960s are a very hot era right now, especially in terms of clothing and design. What is the appeal of this time period?
I think it's mostly the issue of restraint. What is always powerful in narrative terms is what you can't have, rather than what you canthe things that keep people (and lovers) apartwhether it be society, morality, issues of shame or actual physical and geographical issues like war.
What's fascinating about that particular era is that you have all the restrictive moral codes of an older society butting up against the new freedoms of the sixties. It was a society in flux. Ten years later, if Jennifer had wanted to run off with Boot, probably neither of them would have hesitated.
You really play around with time and the traditional narrative structure, not just moving between Jennifer's and Ellie's lives but also shifting Jennifer's storyline between before and after the accident to tease out B's identity. Why did you choose to structure the novel this way? Was it difficult to achieve?
Yes! And it took a leap of faith to believe the readers would come with me. One of the things I love when I'm reading is if the author trusts my intelligence enough to let me deduce things myself. By playing with narrative structure in such an extreme way, I felt I might be testing that to the limit. But luckily, it seems to have been one of the elements that people liked most. What was difficult was making each part distinct enough that the moving around in time and space wouldn't be too confusing; using different narrative voices (i.e. ,Boot instead of Jennifer) helped clarify it.
The novel presents a fascinating view of relationships past and present. Today, anecdotally, it's said that half of all marriages will end in divorce. In Jennifer's era, divorce was still a social taboo. Why do you think popular attitudes have changed? What response do you think Jennifer and Laurence's domestic arrangement would get today? Do you think the increase in divorce is healthier than older eras' decision to stick it out no matter how unhappy the marriage?
I think popular attitudes have changed because so many people were so miserable. But also because there is a much greater emphasis on personal freedoms, perhaps too much sometimes.
I've been married thirteen years but wouldn't dare to consider myself an expert. What I would say is that if you grit your teeth and stick things out when you hit trouble, instead of following your initial instinct to go, you often find that a year down the line you have something richer and deeper than you could have imagined. I think those who jump ship often don't believe that this can happen, and that's a real shame. So as far as your question goes, I think there's probably a happy medium for most people. If something is abusive, then go, without question. For most people, though, especially where there are children, I think it's worth giving it everything you've got.
You've created a complete world for Jennifer and Ellie, with a broad spectrum of friends, coworkers, and employees. Of your secondary characters, who is your favorite and why?
I did love writing Don, the news editor, mostly because I used to have an editor just like him; a wisecracking news junkie, but incredibly loyal to his colleagues. There was proper love between him and Anthony. I also had a soft spot for Moira Parker. She was so much the product of her time, and so obviously destined to be disappointed. I could picture her even before I started to write her.
How much of your own experience as a journalist went into writing Ellie's scenes at the newspaper? Now that you're focusing on fiction, do you miss that daily newsroom environment? What lessons from journalism have you applied to your fiction writing?
I think it took me a good year of being a full-time writer before I stopped missing the adrenaline of the newsroom. And even now, when a big news event happens, I have to resist the urge to call up and ask if they need an extra pair of hands. To get over it, I have a shared office in a small town near where I live; it means I have a fresh source of gossip and a reason to get dressed in the mornings.
And yes, a lot of my experience went into the newsroom scenes. I also went to the British Newspaper Library and immersed myself in newspapers of the day so that I could get a real sense of the preoccupations of the era, its language and advertisements. The asbestos plotline came from a huge advertising pullout on "Asbestos the Wonder Mineral" I found while doing my research.
Journalism has taught me so many things useful for writing fiction. The first is to see stories everywhere; journalism really teaches you to listen and to ask questionswhy is that window always open? Is this wonder mineral really as good as it seems? Why does Mrs. Smith at No. 42 race off as soon as her husband leaves?
It also taught me that it's my responsibility to keep the reader interested. In journalism, if the reader doesn't get beyond the intro, then it's your fault. I can't see the difference with fiction. But mostlyand my publishers love me for thisit means I never miss a deadline.
The first and the last sentence of a novel have tremendous impact on a reader. As a writer, how do you know when you've finally captured those moments? Why did you choose the sentences that you did?
I'm not sure you do know, apart from in your gut. All I know is that I tweak and fiddle until it feels right. And often, until it makes me cry. If my own scenes don't move me, I don't believe they'll move anyone else. So often it's a matter of reworking something until I'm sobbing.
Writing is a very strange profession.
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