Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Letters to My Husband - Stephanie Butland

About the book...
Dear Mike, I can’t believe that it’s true. You wouldn’t do this to me. You promised.

Elizabeth knows that her husband is kind and good and that he loves her unconditionally. She knows she hasn’t been herself lately but that, even so, they are happy.

But Elizabeth’s world is turned upside down when Mike dies in a tragic drowning accident. Suddenly everything Elizabeth knows about her husband is thrown into doubt. Why would he sacrifice his own life, knowing he’d never see his wife again? And what exactly was he doing at the lake that night?

Elizabeth knows that writing to Mike won’t bring him back, but she needs to talk to him now more than ever . . .

How much can you ever know about the people you love?

Originally published in hardback as Surrounded by Water.

About the author...

Stephanie Butland’s first two books were about her dance with cancer. She then turned to fiction, and Letters to My Husband is the first of two novels set in a small English town.

Stephanie lives with her family near the sea in the North east of England. She writes in a studio at the bottom of her garden, and when she’s not writing, she trains people to think more creatively. For fun, she reads, knits, sews, bakes, and spins.

My thoughts...
Almost a year to the day, I first posted this review for Stephanie’s debut novel Surrounded by Water. The book was the subject of much discussion on Twitter and I thought it would be right up my street - I knew I just had to read it and was sent a copy in exchange for an honest review by Stephanie's publisher at Transworld. My gut instincts weren't wrong - it was outstanding.   All that I could say was WOW! How can she top this?  

I started seeing mentions of Letters to my Husband on twitter and immediately wanted to get my hands on it - if it was anything like Surrounded by Water it was going to be amazing.  I have to say my heart plummeted a little when I found out it wasn't a new book but just a new name for the paperback launch.  However, a second reading left me in the same place as the first, thoughtful, retrospective and stuck for words - if anything it was even better and I think the title and image are even more suited to the book than the first. 

The story begins with the sudden death of Michael, Elizabeths husband who drowns whilst out walking the dog late one evening.

It's fair to say Elizabeth literally falls apart and is supported by her sister, mother in law and Michael's two best friends.  Michael was her soul mate and they had a perfect life, it is only as the story unfolds do we find out it had tiny, little fractures - not visible until you look closely.

Stephanie's descriptions of each of the characters was beautiful and clear.  I could visualise  every person and each seemed just perfect - I could have been reading about an incident in my village and about people I knew.

I loved the way that as the story moved forward the author also took us back allowing a glimpse into Michael and Elizabeth's relationship from their first meeting, including   highlighting past events that shaped the couple into the people they had become. I was also deeply moved by the letters that Elizabeth wrote to Michael after his death - what ended up a very important part of her grieving process.

Grief is an emotion that affects everybody differently and Stephanie took me on a journey with Elizabeth that was quite exhausting - she was literally poleaxed when Michael died, barely able or willing to function.  She really was at rock bottom, shock and denial playing a big part - for every step forward another revelation would appear and Elizabeth would once again plunge into a despairing, depressed world and Stephanie cleverly took me with her.

I must have felt every emotion possible reading this book, from helplessness and sadness to happiness and elation. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball and how we react depends upon the people and characters we are to begin with.  Both Elizabeth and Michaels mother were suffering grief for the death of the same person but reacted in totally different ways - that doesn't mean either was suffering less.  I kept having to close the book and take stock as I was so immersed in the story I felt physically drained at times - feeling the sadness as vividly and deeply as if Elizabeth was my friend or sister.

Just like real life things are not always what we see on the surface so just when I thought I had it all worked out Stephanie added another twist and had me guessing again.  I have to say it got to the point where I thought 'how much more can one person take?' Enough, please!! It was quite harrowing and heart breaking to read. This story is full of secrets that required lies to hold it all together and little bits are gradually revealed throughout the book. 

It does beg the question though - do we ever really know the people we are close to? How many times have we lied by omission and not communicated how we really feel? I for one shall take stock and thank my lucky stars for the loving relationships felt by my family and hope that they are as real and true as I believe they are.

I highly recommend this novel and truly loved every page - an emotional journey that left me sitting, silently, contemplating every aspect of the story long after it had ended.

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