Thursday, April 23, 2020

Seven Letters

Title:  Seven Letters
Author:  J P Monninger
Publication Information:  Griffin. 2019. 352 pages.
ISBN:  1250187699 / 978-1250187697
Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The Irish tell a story of a man who fell in love with a fairy woman and went with her to live on an island lost to time and trouble."

Favorite Quote:  "Love must always have its own island."

Seven Letters begins with a lovely prologue of a man, a fairy, an island, and a love lost. This eerie beginning sets up high expectations for this book. The setting around the Blaskets, a group of uninhabited islands off Ireland's western coast furthers that expectation of a mystical, haunting tale. Unfortunately, none of the expectations come even close to fruition. There is a complete disconnect between the prologue and the rest of the story.

The story is much more modern and much more pragmatic. Kate Moreton teaches as a PhD candidate at Dartmouth, but she is on sabbatical to continue her thesis research on-site at the Blasket Islands. Her family has a connection to the islands, and her research is personal. That "research" ends up in a University provided apartment and a library cubicle. The on-site part of the research is not really on-site. Unfortunately, the book is not about that history or that research. It is not about the myth, folklore, or beauty of Ireland at all.

In Ireland, Kate meets Ozzie. Ozzie is American but Irish by heritage. He is also a veteran who carries the scars of war. There meeting is an instant love story, and that is where the story stays. A story of Irish folklore turns into a story of modern love.

That could be a fine story on its own. Unfortunately, Kate ends up not a very likable character. The character comes across as somewhat shallow and very self-centered. In her own words, she acknowledges, "I had been so intent on my own needs, my own petty academic career, my need for tidiness, that I had never seen what he needed from me." Unfortunately, the bulk of the book centers on her. Ozzie and his voice are missing from this book. His story is told through Kate's eyes, which conveys how it impacts her but not what his story actually is. So, the self-centered approach of that character is never broken or balanced by another perspective.

The love story turns again, becoming a darker story of the impact of war on returning soldiers and the plight of refugees. Yes, that is correct. The book begins with Irish folklore and ends up somewhere completely different. Again, this story is not told as it impacts those at the heart of it. The book sadly remains completely Kate's tale, even to the very end.

The letters in the book are less symbolic and inherent to the story than the title you might expect. They range from Dartmouth's approval of Kate's sabbatical to an attorney's letter to one that does not appear to be a letter at all. Once again, the expectation from the prologue is to be moved by these letters and for them to perhaps capture the love story. A couple are "love letters" but again fail to capture the promise of the beginning.

Finally, I am not entirely sure I understand the ending. Did that actually happen? It is unclear, and unfortunately, other than a general curiosity, I am not sure I really care. Clearly, I was not the reader to whom this book spoke.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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