Fic­tional trail of letters leads to in­sight on hu­man na­ture

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - Re­viewed by Angela Narth

FANS of good old-fash­ioned let­ter writ­ing and smooth, solid prose will be happy to snug­gle up with this se­cond fic­tion of­fer­ing from Bri­tish au­thor Deb­o­rah McKin­ley. Some­what rem­i­nis­cent of Mary Ann Shaf­fer and An­nie Bar­rows’ The Guernsey Lit­er­ary and Potato Peel Pie So­ci­ety, McKin­lay’s new novel uses letters as a means to ex­plore char­ac­ter and re­la­tion­ships. Jack­son, a fa­mous Amer­i­can nov­el­ist, has spent his life us­ing his rugged good looks and charisma as bait for the fawn­ing women who come into his life. He re­ceives a heart­felt let­ter from Eve, a Bri­tish fan; their mu­tual love of food en­cour­ages them to en­ter into a snail-mail cor­re­spon­dence that stretches into weeks, then months. Over time, as Jack­son’s glam­orous life be­gins to lose its lus­tre and Eve’s life of con­sid­er­a­tion for oth­ers threat­ens to swal­low her whole, the letters be­come a haven for them both. Su­per­fi­cial at first, their mis­sives be­come more and more per­sonal. Out­go­ing letters are cathar­tic; in­com­ing ones sup­port­ive. Lit­tle by lit­tle, the letters take on in­creas­ing im­por­tance in the lives of the two cor­re­spon­dents. In spite of the ocean that sep­a­rates them, their face-to-face meet­ing ap­pears in­evitable. And then, just when the reader thinks the end­ing is clear, McKin­lay tosses in a few sur­prises. McKin­lay’s back­ground has been largely non-fic­tion, with con­tri­bu­tions to U.K. edi­tions of Vogue, Elle and Esquire, as well as a half-dozen non-fic­tion/hu­mour book ti­tles. Her non-fic­tion in­di­cates a jour­nal­ist’s solid grasp of cur­rent trends; her fic­tion shows her to be a tal­ented and in­sight­ful sto­ry­teller. McKin­lay’s first novel, The View From Here (2011), hinted at a voice that could both en­ter­tain and charm. Her new­est of­fer­ing con­firms this, with writ­ing that flows well and pro­pels the reader on­ward. Some un­com­fort­able shifts in view­point may cause old-school writ­ing teach­ers to cringe. In what is es­sen­tially a novel of two view­points, McKin­lay oc­ca­sion­ally drops in a sen­ti­ment from one or an­other ad­di­tional char­ac­ter. Whether these lapses can be at­trib­uted to lack of craft or to de­lib­er­ate form is un­clear. But al­though they jar at the mo­ment of their ap­pear­ance, they don’t de­tract sig­nif­i­cantly from the over­all qual­ity. That Much Was True is a light and cosy ro­mance, but it also has a deeper mes­sage. It sug­gests that our be­hav­iour and the very lan­guage we use are less re­flec­tions of our es­sen­tial na­ture than they are sim­ply expressions of the roles we play. Given McKin­lay’s abil­ity to con­vey the com­plex na­ture of per­son­al­i­ties and re­la­tion­ships in the con­text of a good story, it will be no sur­prise to see this au­thor’s fic­tion gain in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity. Angela Narth is a Win­nipeg au­thor and lit­er­ary re­viewer. Her most re­cent work, a chapter on writ­ing chil­dren’s lit­er­a­ture, is slated for re­lease in spring 2014 in the an­thol­ogy Writ­ing Af­ter Re­tire­ment: Tips by Suc­cess­ful

Re­tired Writ­ers, from Scare­crow Press.

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