This book often sends me into raptures. Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey is an epic love story woven with astonishing skill. When dying World War II bomber pilot Dan makes a last-ditch attempt to contact the love of his life, vicar’s wife Stella, it is troubled singer Jess – squatting in the now abandoned love nest – who ends up reading the letter. Joined by her new friend ‘posh boy’ Will, they set out to reunite the lovers before it’s too late.
The characters in this book are so strong that you can practically see and hear their personalities in all their colourful glory. The crimson-lipsticked Nancy fizzes off the page, as does the hilarious, tousled and not-all-that-confident Will. And what can I say about Dan? Charismatic and kind, like Stella I fell completely in love with him.
Grey draws her villains perfectly too – I won’t give away any spoilers, but boy, I was rippling with anger towards one particular character. Grey stokes up the tension and the passion throughout, but no fear, the sex scenes do their job without once veering into cringe-factor territory. And as for emotion – well this book has valleys of it. But it isn’t all tear-sodden hankies, there are laughs aplenty too.
What a talent Grey is and what a perfectly formed, beautifully written debut. I will certainly be reading everything Grey publishes in the future. A heady mix of heart-breaking and feel-good, this is my book of 2015. I absolutely loved it.
This incredible and memorable debut was my book of 2014.
When Peggy Hillcoat’s survivalist father takes her to a tumble-down hut in the remote German mountains, it feels like the start of an adventure, skinning squirrels to eat and making porridge from acorns. Then James tells Peggy that an apocalypse has killed the rest of the world including her concert pianist mother Ute. What unfolds is by turns enchanting and menacing. Where Ute has never allowed her daughter to touch her precious piano, James makes a silent piano by fashioning bits of wood into a keyboard. He thereby teaches his little girl to play.
It is told from two points of view – eight-year-old Peggy, and 17-year-old Peggy who has returned to Ute after nine years of living in ‘Die Hutte.’ Because we know that ultimately Peggy escapes, it makes her terrible ordeal a little easier to bear. As James descends into insanity, Peggy’s story takes an even more sinister turn.
While Peggy’s survivalist father turns out to be anything but, it is Peggy who is the ultimate survivor. She is endearing and unforgettable.
Fuller’s description of the forest is so evocative that’s it easy to imagine the textures, colours and smells of the place.
This is literary fiction at its best. Yes, there are sentences beautiful enough to frame, but you won’t find yourself tripping over any self-conscious prose. Neither will you find any ridiculous plot twists. The story is seeded with tiny hints and clues that will keep you staying up late and turning the pages.
Our Endless Numbered Days is an utterly compelling and haunting debut.