This book was another library find. It just sort of fell off the shelf and into my hands. I’ll be totally honest; this is not the kind of book I would usually read. After reading the blurb, I had already made my mind up that this novel would be a light and fluffy read, possibly even Chick Lit. However, its title and the premise of the book intrigued me, as I love writing letters (and always have) and I feel that letter writing is becoming a dying art. I simply had to read it to re-evoke the nostalgic feelings I have about letters.
In a forgotten nook of Cambridge, there is a shop dedicated to letter writing. Its shelves are stacked with hundreds and thousands of sheets of note paper and exquisitely beautiful sets of stationery and pens just waiting to be selected by a customer. Clara Cohen runs this shop, and encourages her customers to write letters to express the multitude of emotions and feelings that they may be feeling. Clara’s customers write to correspondents, alive, estranged or dead. They allow their thoughts and feelings to tumble from the inner depths of their souls onto the paper, revealing secrets, declarations of love, hope and despair.
As part of the service, Clara will take the sealed letters from her customers and either post them on their behalf, or keep them in a safe place in her shop. Clara loves her job, and it makes her happy to keep the magic of letter writing alive.
Clara is fully aware of the power a letter can have; how words scrawled on a page can pierce your heart and turn your life upside down. When she finds a suitcase full of wartime love letters stashed away in her loft, she is taken on a profound journey of her own, as the letters are concerning members of her own family, revealing a past Clara knew nothing about.
Clara is also writing letters of her own, to the people living in the houses she walks past on her way home from work. She knows nothing about these people, but Clara possesses a magical ability, and somehow her heart tells her the words that need to be written. The words flow from her pen onto the page. There is one particular man to whom she writes to more than once, a man who is grieving for the wife he has lost, and doing the best he can to hold everything together and bring up his teenage daughter.
This is a wonderfully whimsical tale of love, and the letters in this novel blend the past and present together to tell a story. There is a supernatural element to this novel, and I wasn’t sure that I found this believable. This aside, it was an enjoyable read; the perfect book to curl up with by the fire, and it made me want to pick up my own pen and write letters to my friends and family.
Letter writing has always been a huge part of my life. As a child, I was always encouraged to write thank you letters to my friends and family for the birthday and Christmas presents I received. I wrote letters to Santa, letters to Blue Peter and Jim’ll Fix It. I also wrote letters to my cousin who moved house to live in Warwickshire. It was a fun way to keep in touch and I looked forward to her letters arriving, usually addressed to me in glitter pen and covered in stickers. In my last year of secondary school, we were taught by an Australian teacher, who paired the children in our class up with children in the class he used to teach in Australia. I began writing to Lisa, and 25 years later we are still writing. We have shared everything in our lives. We even got married in the same year, and we both have two sons each of similar ages. How I loved to receive her letters (and still do) decorated with Australian stamps and an Airmail sticker. Lisa’s letters were, and still are, quite often stuffed with photos and told stories of her life in Oz, which is so very different from mine. This year, I was fortunate enough to win a writing competition, the prize being a trip to Australia, and I finally got to meet my lovely friend, who knew pretty much everything there was to know about me through our years of writing each other letters. How magical is that?
There is nothing nicer than receiving a handwritten letter on your doormat. When someone writes you a letter, it takes time and effort. There has to be a choice of stationery, (don’t even get me started on my love of stationery!), and each letter is written by hand in real ink (not from a printer toner cartridge). The words written are thought about carefully and sentences artfully constructed. The envelope is sealed and a stamp carefully placed in the top right hand corner. The letter may smell of the person who has written it; the paper scented with their perfume or the smell of the roast dinner cooking in the oven whilst they wrote it. The envelope is posted in a red postbox and finds itself in the postman’s sack, ready to be delivered to your door, no matter what the weather.
When it finally completes its journey and lands on your doormat, (a little dishevelled perhaps), you might make a cup of tea and read it slowly, savouring the words on the page. The letter is a gift of time; it can be read over and over again. The words may make you laugh or cry.
There is something magical about letter writing, something old fashioned and romantic. I have stacks of letters in boxes that I will always treasure dearly. They make up a little part of history.
So, why not try it? Why not make someone’s day and put pen to paper? You never know what you might receive back.