Published by Headline Review (1 August 2018)
Ebook (1 August 2018) | Paperback (4 April 2019)
Source: Review copy provided by the publisher and Netgalley
| About the Book |
Perfect for fans of Kate Morton and Kathryn Hughes, this gripping novel of long-buried secrets will stay with you for ever.
A heartbreaking letter. A girl locked away. A mystery to be solved.
1956. When Ivy Jenkins falls pregnant she is sent in disgrace to St Margaret’s, a dark, brooding house for unmarried mothers. Her baby is adopted against her will. Ivy will never leave.
Present day. Samantha Harper is a journalist desperate for a break. When she stumbles on a letter from the past, the contents shock and move her. The letter is from a young mother, begging to be rescued from St Margaret’s. Before it is too late.
Sam is pulled into the tragic story and discovers a spate of unexplained deaths surrounding the woman and her child. With St Margaret’s set for demolition, Sam has only hours to piece together a sixty-year-old mystery before the truth, which lies disturbingly close to home, is lost for ever…
Read her letter. Remember her story…
| My Thoughts |
Oh my. What to say about this book. When I first saw the description it was one that absolutely appealed to me. Dual time, historical fiction – just the sort of book I love. What I wasn’t expecting was such an emotional, harrowing and dark read, bordering on the thriller genre.
The story begins with a prologue in 1959 and a letter from Ivy Jenkins addressed to someone called Elvira. This is the first of many heart-breaking letters that we see from Ivy. Ivy’s backstory is gradually revealed but it appears that she has been incarcerated since 1956 in St Margaret’s Mother and Baby Home in Sussex, simply for the ‘crime’ of falling pregnant and being unmarried. Because her family were unable/unwilling to pay the required fee, Ivy has been forced to remain at the home to pay off the debt.
It is 2017 and Samantha Harper, a young journalist, is desperate for a break and feels overlooked by her boss at the local newspaper. Separated from her husband, she lives with her Nana and 4 year old daughter Emma. Samantha comes into the possession of some letters and intrigued, she wants to find out more. It becomes clear that there is a mystery of suspicious deaths involving the Home and if Sam wants to delve deeper, she is up against the clock. Time is against her as St Margaret’s is due for demolition in a few days.
Emily Gunnis does not pull any punches here over the cruelty and brutality of these homes. Run by nuns, wouldn’t you naturally expect them to be kind and compassionate? Forget it. Most of the nuns at St Margaret’s are cruel and sadistic without a shred of humanity or compassion in them. Having read about the horrific treatment of women and children in the Magdalen laundries in Ireland, this wasn’t a totally unexpected revelation but I didn’t realise that the UK had its share of these brutal homes too. In the author’s notes at the back, she refers to a convent in Essex, my home county, being run like a ‘Victorian workhouse” where mothers were forced to give up their babies.
Of course, the nuns wouldn’t have been able to continue with their vile practices without the collusion of others. The families may possibly have been deceived as to the reality of sending their daughters to such places but doctors, priests, adoption agencies and the like knew exactly what kind of hellhole these girls were going to and many did very well financially from the arrangement. Nobody in a position of authority comes out well in this story and although some may be more culpable than others, they all have questions to answer. A book rarely makes me angry but this one did and fair play to the author for invoking that reaction.
The Girl in the Letter is a stunning debut from Emily Gunnis. It has clearly been well researched and factual and historic knowledge has been woven seamlessly into a fictional story, with each chapter ending with an intriguing hook. The threads of the story go back and forth in time and involve various characters over a timeline of 60 years and although, like me, you may initially wonder how a particular character fits in to the story, they are pulled together to a dramatic conclusion. What I particularly liked is the way that Ivy’s story is mainly told by way of her letters. Ivy is a very engaging character that I felt much sympathy for and the helplessness of her desperate situation came across so clearly.
It’s quite difficult to define the genre of the story, and I suppose it could be described as a historical thriller/mystery with touches of the paranormal. If I were to be really very picky, the paranormal aspect (and to be fair this only appears now and again in the story) is the only part which didn’t really work for me (but then it rarely does, whatever the book). However this didn’t spoil anything and certainly didn’t stop me from being completely engrossed and wanting to shed tears for Ivy and the other young women and children like her.
It is no secret that the author is the daughter of the late Penny Vincenzi, one of my all-time favourite authors. The talented writing gene obviously runs in the family. The Girl in the Letter is a powerful and gripping read which will stir emotions and deserves to be a huge success. I loved it and do hope there is another book to come from Emily.
My thanks to Headline for providing a copy via Netgalley and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the invite.
The Girl in the Letter is currently available to download on Amazon for just 99p – an absolute steal for a cracker of a book.
| Author Bio |
Emily Gunnis previously worked in TV drama and lives in Brighton with her young family. She is one of the four daughters of Sunday Times bestselling author Penny Vincenzi.