Counterbalancing the surface glitter of contemporary life with the steely precision, irony, and deep seriousness of the early 1960s, JoJo Moyes adopts the mantle of the very best of contemporary romance novelists. In The Last Letter from Your Lover, she delivers a pivotal moment: a passionate infatuation as her protagonist, Jennifer Stirling, lies in hospital with her memory fractured, barely believing she‘s landed there.
Laurence, Jennifer’s diffident, handsome husband, pays for her private care.
Time for Jennifer has become fractured and unimaginable; she arrives and departs “in chaotic clumps of hours.” She’s not worried,
though; she feels quite peaceful in her little bubble. There’s only a vague sadness that she can’t be the person everyone expects her to be. The scar on her arm, vivid in bright light, is the only evidence that there was some kind of disaster.
Beautifully evincing the social strictures of the time, Moyes's sensational melodrama firmly embeds Jennifer in a London that has not yet embraced the sexual revolution. Divorce and extra-marital affairs are seen as moral snake pits where few women dare enter. We learn that Jennifer has been married to Lawrence for four years and lives in a salubrious part of London. During the day, there
is only the housekeeper, Mrs. Cordoza, for company. At night, Jennifer hosts cocktail parties and dinners, always looking beautiful and decorative.
Moyes’s ironic meditation on the evolution of romantic love unfolds against Jennifer’s ruminations that something
is missing, as if there’s some puzzle to which she doesn’t hold all the pieces. While Lawrence exhibits “a terrible stillness” that speaks of something darker--a barely suppressed anger--Jennifer discovers the passionate letter written by the man who once opened herself to her, his emotions suffused with an urgency in a way that Lawrence never could.
On the French Riviera, there’s a vision of a moonlit seafront, the laughter and the clinking of glasses. Jennifer must lean to trust her gut reactions. With the discovery of the letters, Jennifer begins to calculate the gulf between what she was--a buoyant, adored, perhaps even spoiled creature--and the woman she now inhabits. Certainly foreign correspondent Anthony O’Hare remembers that night. With his lost family and disappearing career, his irritable mood darkened even further through drink, it’s not surprising that Anthony falls so deeply in love.
The prose is suburb, reflecting a city on the move as London becomes the center of the universe, a showcase for the bourgeoning equality between men and women while the post-war penury of its sober streets is replaced by something much brighter. Moyes bathes Anthony and Jennifer’s enduring love in melancholic weariness, the letters etched into the life of Ellie Haworth, who in 2003 discovers the exquisite clarity of their love. A switchplate of time and place, the novel is cloaked in the boundaries of rigid codes of conduct. Even after so many years, the letters hold passion and force, quite ironic in this world of email and abbreviated mobile phone messages.
From John, Ellie’s lover, who sends her harried text messages to a world of “great sex and noncommittal emails,” Ellie finds her career as a lifestyle reporter under threat. Finding she’s only half in love, Ellie seeks to get at least some commitment from John. Anthony’s letters lead her to a grey slab mansion block in St John's Wood, where her appointment with an aging Jennifer eventually gives them both a long-desired sense of closure.
The terrain is familiar, as the book acknowledges, but what saves this tale from falling into schlock romance is the vivid fact that Jennifer and Anthony’s fragile, precious, and seductive love can endure down through the decades despite the almost insurmountable obstacles.