Review of Emily Gunnis’ ‘The Girl in the Letter’

Nope. I was reading Emily Gunnis’ ‘The Girl in the Letter’ and it just doesn’t work.
A good novel creates a world that the reader immerses into, like a warm bath. It becomes all encompassing, and even when the world is on a different planet or a foreign country, the reader suspends disbelief and allows the author to lead them on a fantastic journey, all the way to the gates of Mordor. But when that suspension of disbelief is pushed too far, when the writer tries to get away with too much, the balloon pops and all the faults begin to rain down on a reader. ‘The Girl in the Letter’ is such a book.
The evil characters, the doctors, the priest and the nuns, are cardboard caricatures of evil. I rolled my eyes and pushed on, but it was the beginning of the end. For writers, a good way to prevent yourself from creating such types is to write a chapter or two from the evil character’s point of view. I could not imagine Mother Carlin sitting down for a social cup of tea with another character. Gunnis should have written such a chapter, even if she tossed it, as an exercise in humanizing the evil. In truth, humanized evil is much more frightening. Remembering that everyone is the hero of their own story and understanding what drove the nuns. I half expected the nuns to take off their habits to reveal sexy lingerie with Nazi swastikas and have the novel go full camp.
There are so many coincidences that make the story work as to compound the unbelievability. An empty mansion for twenty years and Samantha and Kitty just happen to be there the same night? Okay. Two characters connected to the mansion that both had the same boyfriend, who happens to die? Okay. Samantha looking for files and just happens to find the incriminating one in less than five minutes? Okay. Elvira and Kitty happen to meet on the same night their father dies in a traffic accident? Okay. Two twins switched as ten year olds and nobody noticed? Okay. A series of letters that lead like breadcrumbs, until you realize Annabel Rose had the whole loaf of bread she is feeding to Sam. And how did she get all of these letters that were not addressed to her? Okay.
As the whole contraption staggers along other minor faults become irritations. Too many characters with too many jumps of point of view. Similar names to remember like Emma and Elivira, Cannon and Connor. Characters becoming tired and staggering. Lost, again and again. An asshole ex-husband and an asshole boss. Cliche bickering that was painful to read. We are told, ie telegraphed that certain characters die, and then we see the actual scene where they die. We know what is going to happen already. What was the point?
Then a story line grafted on that an evil pharmaceutical company was involved. No explanation of what drugs they might be testing on children and why. Adding a corporate interest to crucify beside the Catholic church. (Which the cynic in me wonders why not the Anglican church? This is in England.)
With fifty pages to go the author reaches for the low hanging fruit of putting the child of the main character at risk and we know the melodramatic ending is about to be tacked on to the already Kafkaesque story of the wrong sister being imprisoned. That that story line is not explored betrays that the author knew they had gone over the top.
Disappointing. The factual information this story is based on is important and deserves a good airing. But this is too much of a polemic preaching rather than good literature.

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ISBN 9781472255099