Just finished reading I Sent a Letter to my Love by Bernice Rubens. One of my favourite things is picking up a random book from a shelf with no context of the author nor the plot and just having a ‘feeling’ I’d enjoy it. And what’s even better is when the book turns out to be just the sort of hidden gem you’d never have otherwise encountered. I Sent a Letter to my Love is a melancholic and memorable novel about Amy Evans.
After a childhood marked by her mother’s emotional neglect, she finds herself a spinster living with her disabled brother. Marked by the scar of irredeemable ‘ugliness’, she is shut away and longing for a love she has never experienced. So when she decides to write into her local lonely hearts column with a changed name, she doesn’t expect her entire life to change. In some ways, this is a tragic and disturbing book but Rubens finds real moments of comedy and solace in this narrative through her warm and compassionate prose.
Amy and the rest of the cast of the novel are difficult people to be with but Rubens takes us deep into their world and creates a novel that is as inexplicably charming as it is nauseating. I didn’t know until a few chapters in that Rubens was actually the first woman to win the Booker Prize back in 1970 (though not for this work). Her craft is substantial and her writing mixes light with dark deftly. She is an author whose other work I look forward to exploring. If I Sent a Letter… is anything to go by, they’ll be intense explorations of the warped human psyche, probably peppered with unique Welsh dialect. If you want to try something off the beaten path, I highly recommend it.