Shy, well-read Laura Horsley faces unemployment when the book shop she works in closes down, but she is persuaded to help run a literary festival at a stately home in the country and is expected to entice famously reclusive Irish author Dermot Flynn out of his self-imposed isolation to attend the event. There you have the general gist of Love Letters, by Katie Fforde, but there’s more to it than that for this is a comedy of errors and misunderstandings in which Laura learns about life and love as she discovers emotions and feelings for herself, rather than acquiring knowledge through the pages of her favourite novels.
She’s an engaging heroine, whose quiet, self-contained manner contrasts with the other characters. There is Grant, her gay colleague, who is determined to make Laura live a little; feisty, uninhibited Monica, the singer in an all-girl swing trio, and Eleanora Huckleby, the outrageous, flamboyant agent. Then, of course, there is the charismatic Dermot Flynn himself, and a host of minor characters, including some snobby book group ladies who are very dismissive of Laura and her views - until they realise she has actually met the famous Irish author.
The characters are well drawn, the settings are credible and the story moves along at a cracking pace as girl meets boy, girl runs away, boy finds girl, and everyone lives happily ever after in the tradition of all good fairytales. It’s light, frothy, and very enjoyable, but there are other issues here: Laura – and some of the other characters – must decide whether to take a risk on the future, or stick with the comfort and safety of what they know. And there are more serious problems to be considered, like unemployment, independent book shops’ struggle for survival, and the difficulty of preserving historic homes for the future.
Above all, Love Letters is well written. Romantic fiction has a bad name, and ‘serious’ bibliophiles are usually very dismissive of the genre, so all I can say is read Katie Fforde and see if she changes your mind ... please!