Sunday 17 December 2017

A suspenseful read that doesn't take itself too seriously

The Letter opens with the heroine, Ellie, about to marry a guy called Smellie. And so the die is cast for a novel which doesn't take itself too seriously. It would be difficult to take this book seriously, anyway, strewn as it is with characters who tease each other mildly by saying, "Aw, for f**ks' sake, would you feck off" – As you do, I suppose...

The plot flies the main players – literally – between Dublin and New York like it was on the daily commuter belt, and nobody gets jet lag. Ah, what it is to be young and beautiful. And fit, too.

The Smellie guy is a personal trainer, and Ellie really loves him (well, someone's got to love personal trainers). But she cancels their wedding plans when she finds, among her dead sister's personal effects, the letter of the book's title.

Maria Duffy plays coy very well. She doesn't disclose the contents of the letter, she just ferries her characters willy nilly back and forth between Phibsboro and Queens from the day the letter is discovered. Nobody knows what's in the letter, and just as you begin to suspect that this includes the author, all is revealed.

There are twists and turns, of course, along with many bursts of grief, anger, regret, guilt – "a veritable cornucopia", as Terry Wogan might say, of flights of emotion onboard flights of Airbus 330s.

We get a rare description of the typical decor of a room in the Waldorf Astoria, and learn useful things, such as the original Waldorf salad is served shredded, not sliced. If only someone had told Basil Fawlty.

This is Maria Duffy's third novel; she has been published annually since 2011, and she has amassed a sizeable following.

It's easy to dismiss novels like this as women's fiction. But, they feed a lucrative market and if writing big-bucks chicklit was as easy as its detractors like to think it is, then why aren't we all doing it? Well?

Ann Cunningham

Irish Independent

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