The moment when a reader reads through the book blurb and plot of a novel to decide whether to buy the book or not is one of the toughest, most unbearable forms of flirting, ever. Every book is a commitment. Every plot is a promise of a good time. Will it be the kind of love that won’t make you shut up for days and weeks and sends your heartbeats in marathons at just the mere mention of its title? Will it be so good that you’d willingly give up sleep for it and read it all through the night? Will it be an excruciating experience that will forever haunt you in your waking hours? Will it be a frustratingly-mediocre, yawn-inducing meh?
I bought Katie Fforde’s ‘Love Letters’ on a whim during one of my spontaneous strolls at my favorite Book Sale branch several Februaries ago. It looked harmless enough, stacked between piles and piles of cliche chick-lit and trashy paperback romances. Fine, this is yet another episode of me being enchanted by a book cover (how very adult of me, I know), but what really made me take it home was the plot. Our female protagonist is a bookish woman working at a bookstore (of course) who finds herself in sudden participation for organizing a literary festival that gets her on the task to convince one of the most popular and promising writers in modern fiction—who also happens to be her favorite author of all time and a well-known recluse—to be their main attraction guest. A BOOKISH GIRL IN A LOVE STORY WITH HER FAVORITE AUTHOR? It’s every bookworm’s romantic fantasy, okay. There’s no way on earth that I will pass up on that one.
Did I like it? Yes. Did it rock my world? Er, not really.
The story is light and engaging—the dilemmas don’t feel life-and-death-ish levels of gripping but it wasn’t such a drag either. Despite the underwhelming turnout of the plot, I guess it’s more of a matter of sufficiently likeable and distinct characters. Each of them has something special and endearing that piqued my curiosity and somehow made me care about them. Laura Horsely, our main girl, is smart, sassy when she has to, and has a lot of traits that the everyday woman can easily identify with. She exhibits this kind of simplicity about her that makes her more of a universal persona instead of a dull, average twenty-something woman. Of course her love for books is a given, but what really made her extra-special (and please don’t take this the wrong way) is her virginity. Yes, you’ve read that right. See, she’s twenty-six, and in modern standards in pretty much anywhere in the world, that’s already a kind of miracle. In Laura’s own words, she’s‘the last virgin in the Eastern Hemisphere.’ And boy, do I love characters who know how to poke fun at themselves. Self-deprecating humor for the win. Even at her weakest moments, her emotions are always relatable but never undignified and I appreciated that she always has her head between her shoulders even if her heart and her feelings are already driving her mad. Although there are moments where she totally overestimate things, she still acts sensibly, despite of what’s going on inside her mind. Respect, you guys, it is earned, and boy did she.
“Laura read a lot. She lived alone in a tiny bedsit and her television was so small and snowy she didn’t watch it much. But she read all the time: at bedtime, while she ate, while she cooked, while she dressed and while she brushed her teeth. She would have read in the shower if she could have worked out a method that wouldn”t completely ruin the book. In the same way she could read anywhere, she could read anything, and if it was good, enjoy it.”
It’s crazy because it’s probably the first time that I loved the female character more than her love interest, although it’s likely because Dermott Flynn, the hot, award-winning author and object of Laura’s romantic (and admittedly sexual) fantasies, appeared for only ¼ of the book. I would’ve loved to know more details about him other than his being temperamental and potty-mouthed and socially-rude. He’s your bleeding-heart rebel with strings of literary awards under his sleeve, and his main problem is his writer’s block, which is interesting enough by itself and something I would’ve wanted to read more about. Unfortunately, the plot focused more on the technicalities of organizing a literary and music festival. I wouldn’t have minded all the behind-the-scenes bits because they’re really informative, but if they take up like half of the story, it might come off as a little too much and uncalled for, because it’s not really what I paid money for when I bought the book, if we’re being completely honest. But I guess that’s also a good thing in a way because that only made the ¼ of the book which focused on Laura and Dermott’s love story, a little bit more precious. And I kid you not, they practically sizzle off the page. The intensity will make you grip the book a little tighter.
Although the plot isn’t really what you’d call award-winning, it remained sweet and fun all throughout. The romantic bantering and the push-and-pull of attraction between our girl and her guy will leave you smiling and satisfied, albeit lacking the much-awaited oomph.
In the beginning, the book says of its heroine:
“She much preferred to be safely on the outside of life, watching, than deeply involved.”
And in my heart of hearts I groan because the author did the exact same thing–I felt confined to being just a mere spectator instead of inhabiting the minds of the characters. I was just watching them fall in love from far-away instead of falling in love with them.
We learn: that some books are cuddly and cute, a reminder of things in the world that are still untainted, pristine, child-like. But there will always be days when we would have to reach out with our palms and minds open, starving for fiercer things—like stories we can actually embrace for real and with characters who will hug us back.
Better luck next time, self.