Van has finished reading…Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey

15 Jun

I should start with the highest accolade: Iona Grey’s Letters To The Lost gets the Mrs Van Seal Of Approval (not lightly nor frequently bestowed). I can follow with the fact that this isn’t a book I would likely have picked up myself so I am very grateful to the Curtis Brown Book Group for providing me (above and beyond the call of duty, I might add) with the opportunity to read it, because I really liked it too.

It’s a quietly compelling book. There are two timelines, two threads woven nicely together. There’s nothing out-of-the-ordinary about either of them, no twists in the tail or blind corners, and that’s something I’m so very very glad of. It’s a story that you first realise could have happened to anyone, could have happened to your parents, or to you. And then you find that it’s a story that seems to be happening around you. The sheer plausibility of it all and particularly the incidental detail in the characters and settings sucks you in and you’re there, up in the dome at St Paul’s with the hairs standing up on the back of your neck and a febrile grin on your face hearing that whisper race around the walls.

Okay, you might raise an eyebrow and mention coincidence but for my money it’d be a hollow concern. Sure, there are coincidences but none of them made me feel cheated as a reader. None of them made me sit up and think, okay, let’s see where it goes. I’ve had things happen in my life that are less believable. In any case, if you were to raise such a quibble, I simply counter with characters.

The characters – more so I think in the wartime period – are perfect. Will and Jess, for me at least, took a little longer to warm to, but with Dan, Stella, Nancy and even Charles I felt instantly connected to in one way or another. By the end of the book I defy you not to be rooting for them, both in the past and the present.

Charles is particularly interesting for the neutral cast the author presents. He could so easily have been a pantomime villain, yet (though God knows he’s a villain in Mrs Van’s mind, alongside The Ship’s Michael Paull) there’s a mitigation (I struggle to say tenderness) in the way Iona grey writes him – that would have been my question had I been there for the discussion with the author: Was he the hardest to get right, to get balanced, to care enough about (to find a likeable aspect of?) so that he didn’t become a caped and jeering vaudevillean?

There were tiny things that lifted me momentarily out of the story, an odd simile that just didn’t work for me, or the word incandescent appearing a few times, but there were far more of those really lovely moments where I had to stop and smile at what I could see in my head (the delphinium sky stays with me). And more than that there is a real sense of warmth, of feeling in the telling of this story. It feels more than possible, it feels real. There’s not much more a writer can ask than that.

What Mrs Van and I are now wondering: when’s the film coming out?


2 Responses to “Van has finished reading…Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey”


  1. The Inaugural Curtis Brown Book Group – my first six months as a #CBBookGroupie | vanisreading - 01/07/2015

    […] Letters To The Lost by Iona Grey […]

  2. The #CBBookGroupie playlist | vanisreading - 09/02/2016

    […] & Stella’s Theme, Letters to the Lost by Iona […]

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