ShortBookandScribes #BookReview – The Letter Reader by Jan Casey
The Letter Reader by Jan Casey is published by Aria and available now in paperback, ebook and audiobook. My thanks to the publishers for the review copy.
She read their secrets during the war. Now she cannot forget them…
1941. London. Keen to do her bit in the war, Connie Allinson joins the WRNS and is posted as a letter censor. Her task: to read and alter correspondence to ensure no sensitive information crosses enemy lines. At first, she is not sure she’s up to it, but is soon drawn in by the letters she reads, and their secrets…
1967. Doncaster. Bored of her domestic life, Connie desperately wants a job, but her controlling husband Arthur won’t hear of it. Looking for an escape, and plagued by memories of letters she read during the war, she makes a bid for freedom and starts secretly tracking down their authors. Will uncovering their past give Connie the key to her present? And will she be able to find them all before Arthur discovers what she is keeping from him?
A page-turning and evocative historical timeslip, for fans of Mandy Robothom and Melanie Hudson.
The Letter Reader takes place during the Second World War and in 1967. The difference between the life of the protagonist, Connie, in each timeline is stark. In 1941 Connie joins the WRNS and is surprised when she is chosen to be a letter censor, being one person in a huge team that reads every letter posted and checks for not only sensitive information but also codes and secret messages.
Jump forward to 1967 and Connie lives a dull life with her husband, Arthur, in Doncaster. Her only thrill is running to catch up with her younger neighbours for a chat and being invited to their coffee morning. Her life is completely stymied by Arthur’s control over her and whilst he is not a cruel man he likes everything done in a certain way to a certain routine, his mantra being that he did not fight in a war so his wife could……insert anything that Connie might possibly find fulfilling.
This dual timeline work of historical fiction felt a bit different to me. I’d never really thought about the role of the letter censor but inevitably Connie finds that some letters she reads never leave her and in her stultifying life in Doncaster, knowing the outcome of what she read becomes almost an obsession for her. The exciting wartime work almost takes a back seat to what the book truly addresses: the control that Arthur has over Connie. I was longing for her to tell Arthur to take a running jump but a small part of me understood that perhaps there was more to it, not least a sign of the times the characters were living in and the long-lasting effects of fighting a war.
I enjoyed The Letter Reader. I found it fascinating to read of Connie’s responsibilities in the WRNS and both timelines felt very real and well-portrayed. I really felt for Connie and was longing for a good ending to her story. I actually found myself moved by the conclusion and on the whole this was an engaging read.
Jan Casey‘s novels, like her first – The Women of Waterloo Bridge – explore the themes of how ordinary people are affected by extraordinary events during any period in history, including the present. Jan is fascinated with the courage, adaptability and resilience that people rise to in times of adversity and for which they do not expect pay, praise or commendation. Jan is also interested in writing about the similarities as opposed to the differences amongst people and the ways in which experiences and emotions bind humans together. Jan was born in London but spent her childhood in Southern California. She was a teacher of English and Drama for many years and is now a Learning Supervisor at a college of further education. When she is not working or writing, Jan enjoys yoga, swimming, cooking, walking, reading and spending time with her grandchildren. Before becoming a published author, Jan had short stories and flash fictions published.
This sounds really interesting. I’ve never thought about how reading all those letters might affect the censors.
Same here. Some would be unforgettable, I think.
I wanted Connie to tell Arthur to take a running jump as well. I agree with you that perhaps his experiences during the war contributed to his need for control although there seemed to be signs of controlling behaviour from the off. I found it difficult to see what Connie saw in him in the first place.
Yes, I agree he was already controlling so perhaps his wartime experiences just made him worse.