LETTERS TO THE END OF LOVE
Author: Yvette Walker
UQP RRP $22.95
Review: Monique Mulligan
Letters to the End of Love is Yvette Walker’s award-winning debut novel and it is, in a word, beautiful. The epistolary narrative earned Walker a Western Australian Premier’s Award in the Emerging Writer category earlier this year and shortlisting for a number of other awards. I was fortunate to meet Yvette Walker last month at a Stories on Stage event and she was as gracious, grounded and articulate as her novel has proven to be. A bright literary future awaits and I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to read more from her.
The narrative consists of letters – love letters – written within three separate relationships and time periods. Each relationship is (or has already) coming to an end for some reason, but underlying them all is the question: Does this mean the end of love? In 1948, a retired English doctor writes letters to the German artist he lived with in the 1930s; in 1969, a Russian painter and his Irish wife write to each other as death knocks at their door; and in 2011, an estranged lesbian couple write to help them understand how their relationship broke down. The letters are heartfelt, probing, intimate and provocative, drawing out shared memories of moments together, domestic arrangements, regrets and unspoken thoughts, delving into what pulled them together and what tore them (or threatens to) apart. Motivated by a combination of comfort, closure and hope, the letters are all beautiful meditations and celebrations of love in its beginning, ending and surviving.
Some afternoons I’m hanging around my inbox like a kid waiting outside school for her sweetheart. But I wanted to give you something else while you are out there in the world, you know? Something to do with memories, recent and past, something to do with the way language can record the world and give intimacy back to you through its slow and steady pulse. I want you to remember. (Grace to Lou, p25)
You wanted me to write to you because you were frightened. There were things left between us that had been left unsaid, or forgotten in all of this time together. You wanted love letters. (Dmitri to Caithleen, p203)
Some nights I wake up with a violent start, my heart in a frenzy, and I believe that I am dead, that I have woken up from life and I’m lying in some celestial waiting room. Then I hear your Longines ticking on the nightstand, and I know with sickening absolute truth that I am still alive, moving forward in time, leaving you behind. (John to David, p46-47)
Thematic links such as Paul Klee’s Ad Marginem painting, dogs and watches connect the stories, if not the characters, but while their stories are distinct, love, of course, connects them all (without in any way appearing clichéd or been-there-done-that). Some readers may struggle with the structure, expecting to find more connection between the characters and therefore finding the jumps between time frames, locations and characters disconcerting. I didn’t. Walker invited me into the hearts of the five characters for short visits, leaving me to fill in the blanks. I felt privileged. At times I nodded and at others, I cried.
Emotionally satisfying and achingly tender, Letters to the End of Love is a brilliant novel. I want to read it again, if only to reacquaint myself with its searing prose.
Available from good bookstores and UQP. My copy was courtesy of UQP.
Bookish treat: My first “letter” from Blue Eyes came with a box of Lindt chocolates. I still have the letter. Not the chocolates