A cache of unsent love letters from the 1950s is found in a suitcase on a remote island in this mysterious love story in the tradition of the novels by Kate Morton and Elizabeth Gilbert.
1951. Esther Durrant, a young mother, is committed to an isolated mental asylum by her husband. Run by a pioneering psychiatrist, the hospital is at first Esther’s prison but soon surprisingly becomes her refuge.
2018. Free-spirited marine scientist Rachel Parker embarks on a research posting in the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast. When a violent storm forces her to take shelter on a far-flung island, she discovers a collection of hidden love letters. Captivated by their passion and tenderness, Rachel determines to track down the intended recipient. But she has no idea of the far-reaching consequences her decision will bring.
Meanwhile, in London, Eve is helping her grandmother, a renowned mountaineer, write her memoirs. When she is contacted by Rachel, it sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to reveal secrets kept buried for more than sixty years.
With an arresting dual narrative that immediately captivates the reader, The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant is an inspirational story of the sacrifices made for love.
In Nunn's beautifully written but uneven latest (after The Botanist's Daughter), a nosy marine scientist leads an old woman to connect with her past via a cache of love letters. In 1951, Esther Durrant's husband, John, sends her to the remote English island of Little Embers, entrusting his old school friend, psychiatrist Richard Creswell, to treat her postpartum depression. Richard is immediately transfixed by Esther's "startling violet-grey eyes," while she feels a new sense of being "thrillingly alive" in his presence. Richard's passionate declarations to Esther are uncovered decades later by a researcher named Rachel Parker who is studying clams on the islands surrounding Little Embers. After Rachel nearly drowns in a storm and is rescued by reclusive painter Leah, she rummages through an old suitcase left in Leah's attic by previous tenants, in which she finds love letters written from "R" to "E. Durrant." Meanwhile, in London, Esther now works on her memoirs with help from her granddaughter Eve, whose own curiosity is piqued when Esther reveals she has something important to share. Rachel locates Esther and gives her the chance to reveal her long-held secret. While Nunn's descriptions of Esther and Richard's emotional bond are heavy-handed and a late plot twist is predictable, the bond between Esther and Eve is natural and affecting. This drawn-out love story misses the mark. (Mar.)