Last Letter Home by Rachel Hore
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publishing Date: 22nd March 2018
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley in return for an honest review, thank you!
Number of pages: 560
Genre: Historical Fiction, Women’s Fiction
From the bestselling author of A Week in Paris, and the Richard & Judy Bookclub pick A Place of Secrets, comes a gripping and moving story spanning 70 years, set in Italy and in Norfolk.
On holiday with friends, young historian Briony Andrews becomes fascinated with a wartime story of a ruined villa in the hills behind Naples. There is a family connection: her grandfather had been a British soldier during the Italian campaign of 1943 in that very area. Handed a bundle of letters that were found after the war, Briony sets off to trace the fate of their sender, Sarah Bailey.
In 1939, Sarah returns with her mother and sister from India, in mourning, to take up residence in the Norfolk village of Westbury. There she forms a firm friendship with Paul Hartmann, a young German who has found sanctuary in the local manor house, Westbury Hall. With the outbreak of war, conflicts of loyalty in Westbury deepen.
When, 70 years later, Briony begins to uncover Sarah and Paul’s story, she encounters resentments and secrets still tightly guarded. What happened long ago in the villa in the shadow of Vesuvius, she suspects, still has the power to give terrible pain …
Rachel Hore is another author that I’ve heard many, many good things about but haven’t read her books – yet! I was truly excited after being approved to read “Last Letter Home” on NetGalley – I do love a good historical fiction, I do love a dual timeline and I loved this beautiful cover. And so, without further delay, I dived into the fictional world of love, drama and the aftermath of the WW2.
Being on holidays in Italy, historian Briony not only stumbles across a ruined villa in the surrounding area, a villa that has connections to her grandfather, who was stationed there in 1943, but is also being given some film reels and love letters. Reading them, she starts to feel desperate to discover the story of Sarah and Paul, who wrote the letters to each other. She doesn’t expect it, but here starts her journey full of secrets and discoveries, truths and lies.
This book was for sure beautifully written. I loved how Rachel Hore has knitted together the life in the pre – war English country, the aftermath of the war, family secrets and tragedies. I admit, it took me some time to get into a book, and there was no particular reason for it, it was just one of the things. It was a little confusing for me also, what with the sudden change in setting and the different tone which seemed as two different stories.
It was a great escapism that slowly unfolded as Briony started to piece together the story behind the letters and their writers. While mostly it was fast paced, there were moments that it dragged on a little for me and was losing the temperature. It also took me some time to warm to the characters and to actually make out who is who and how they are all related as we were presented with a varied, colourful cast of characters. Briony was really well fleshed out but my problem here was that I just simply couldn’t completely warm to her – she was reserved and I had a feeling I just can’t get into her head. I think that the wartime subplot, and the whole secret behind the letters, the relationship between Paul and Sarah were the better part of this book, I really do love historical fiction and this time it was a tale with a difference and it was really interesting to see all the repercussions and problems because Paul was German.
I really liked the way how the past and present, the WW2 parts and the present days, flowed effortlessly together. The Norfolk and Italy settings were so seamlessly brought to life, as all other parts as well, actually. It also shone through the pages how much time and effort went into research.
“Last Letter Home” was a complex, clever story full of secrets, lies and deception, and the author knows how to build tension. Rachel Hore’s writing is very descriptive and very colourful and it’s very easy to imagine the things she’s writing about. As I’ve already mentioned it, it was my first book by this author but it was a great story and here starts my adventure with other Ms Hore’s novel. Highly recommended!