Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reflections: The Last Letter from Your Lover

After a serious accident that leaves her amnesic,  Jennifer Stirling returns to an unfamiliar place that everybody calls “her home”, to a strange man that everyone calls “her husband”. As she pieces together her past life and identity, she comes across a passionate love letter that is addressed to her. Only hitch is - the author is clearly not her husband. With the letter as her guide, she is determined to reclaim fragments of her old life that promised happiness and love. Her struggle is presented through the lens of the austere Victorian morals that still gripped London in the 1960s. How does one assess and put into perspective personal freedom against moral responsibility? The book addresses some of these questions through Jennifer’s epic love story.

I had high expectations for this book. I read a couple of glowing reviews for it that made it seem like the book was profound in its discussion of heavier themes on morality. And as predictable as it can get, I was drawn to it like a moth to light. Well, the book attempts to be more than a sappy love story, but it didn’t hit all the points for me. It is very much reminiscent of Anna Karenina in its portrayal of infidelity. The plot seems to have a formulaic approach. Most of its structure is borrowed from popular culture, literature and movies, so everything about the story is trite and predictable. In addition, it leaps and shuffles across time periods without conveying anything much or adding any dimension to the narration. And, I found the book to be far too long for the content it holds.

But there are certain interesting aspects. The author explores infidelity from multiple perspectives - the cheating husband, the cheated-on wife, the cheating wife, the cheated-on husband, and of course the unattached lover. Is it ever justifiable to have an affair? What about children? How important is one’s own personal freedom and happiness when it threatens to affect the happiness of others? Does morality and moral responsibility take different shades with the passage of time and evolution of society’s values? Heavy questions. But only a small portion of the book addresses the questions. For the most part, the story makes the questions seem black and white because it is narrowly presented through the specific contexts of the characters. The author tries to convince the reader that what A does is clearly wrong and what B is doing is clearly acceptable. One is bad and the other is good. The good is eventually favored in a grand twist of (too many) turns, and the bad gets burned. This approach was simplistic to me, and the themes fell apart as the rest of the book took the predictable journey that all romance novels take. Life is full of grey areas, not always happy endings, and serendipitous coming together of ideal circumstances. Although I’m not a hardened cynic that scoffs at happy endings, I do scoff at the heavily contrived ones. Many parts of the story didn't resonate with how reality works. It is just a feel-good, light read.

The book tries hard to make Jennifer’s story epic, but it did not touch me. I could definitely sympathize with some of the characters and I could surely understand Jennifer and her motivations, but the book didn’t leave a positive impression on me. 


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