Letters to the End of Love, by Yvette Walker.
Letters to the End of Love, by Yvette Walker. Australia: University of Queensland Press, 2013.
AUSTRALIAN WOMEN WRITERS
A deep and lyrical book of fictional letters written between three couples as they consider life, loss, and love.
Yvette Walker writes beautifully; hers is the kind of writing that is joy to read. I was swept along by the details and depth of her words. She has structured her book, not as traditional novel, but as letters exchanged by three sets of lovers in the face of loss. Dimitri and Colleen, a Russian painter and his Irish novelist wife, live in Cork. Having been told he has a fatal illness, they decide to write each other daily letters, love letters, despite the fact they live together. Grace is bookseller in Perth, and her lover, Louise, travels the world arranging tours for celebrities. They are estranged and are writing letters as part of the process of reuniting. John, a retired doctor, lives on the southern coast England and he writes to his lover, David, a German painter killed during World War II.
The couples in the book write about love, in its many manifestations. They write about death and the details of everyday life, of death and war and their childhoods. They tell of the loss of others they have loved; parents and siblings. They recount stories of times they shared and those that, despite their closeness, they had never shared before. They write love letters, but not what we traditionally think of as love letters. As one of them expresses it, “Not romance, not porn, but letters that talk about love as it is, in all its strangeness.” Walker pushes us to expand what we consider as love.
A concern for the couples is what words can and cannot do. The couple is Cork recognizes the need to put their experiences in words, but they recognize their limits. “You and I, we live through words. They are how we understand the world. . . . That is why I love the dog. His world is in his arse, his nose, his tongue, the pads on his feet.” The bookseller in Perth is frustrated by words. “This thin piece of paper with its little words is not how I feel about you, it’s not what you mean to me. . . .” But for the doctor the words he writes to his dead friend are a lifeline.
This line of communication between you and I, this thin grey line between us, seems to me at times the most absurd piece of artifice, and at others the greatest, simplest way of remembering you. I am worried that without it I could wander into myself in such a way that I will never find my way out again. . . .So I remember your love, through the eye of these words, through the disintegrating heart of mine.
By immersing readers in the lives of her characters, Walker also forces readers to figure out what is going on in their lives and what has previously happened to them. She provides rich details full of references to subjects that I knew little about such as international tennis and modern art. Somehow, that doesn’t matter. These were the topics that the couples shared and what bound them to each other, part of their love for each other. They were not anything I needed to know about.
One point that bothered me was that I did not understand the title of the book. I had no sense that the love which the couples expressed was actually ending. Certainly their love was growing and changing in the face of death or separation, but as I read, I felt the book affirmed that love doesn’t end. The book includes sadness and grief, but it is never grim or depressing, even when it might have been in the hands of another writer. Throughout, it proclaims the lasting power of love.
Walker is a new writer, based in western Austria. Some of her characters are based there and others are in Ireland and other European countries. She appears too young to write with the wisdom she reveals. Although she is a lesbian herself, Letters to the End of Love is not simply a book for those who are lesbian or gay. Sexual choice is important to her, but like the exquisitely described geographical settings of the letter writers, love at its core transcends the particularities that she details.
The picture is one by Paul Klee that the various letter writers discuss.
I enthusiastically recommend Letters to the End of Love, and this new author, to all readers who appreciate wise books beautifully written that expand them emotionally and intellectually.