Friday, June 3, 2011

The Little Women Letters -A Novel Review & Writers Workshop

London born author, Gabrielle Donnelly has written an entertaining novel that might appeal to fans of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. Described as: "Vibrant, fresh, and intelligent, The Little Women Letters explores the imagined lives of Jo March's descendants -- three sister who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March."
(cover quote)

_American-born Fee Atwater, a therapist in private practice and her husband David, owner of a small publishing company, live in London and have three grown daughters. The eldest is Emma, poised and beautiful she is considered the model daughter. She is engaged to Matthew, her boyfriend of three years and the wedding is being planned.
_Dramatic, sweet Sophie is the youngest. Tall and slim, flighty and energetic, sort of blond, and sort of loud she is an actress. Sophie is also immensely popular, and every one's favorite. For her life seems effortless.
_Twenty-four year old Lulu is the middle daughter. She's outspoken, often just plain rude to her sisters ... she's yet to discover the line between teasing and unkindness. Lulu is envious, unsettled, messy, academically gifted, she has a degree in biochemistry from St Andrews and a career she refuses to pursue. Clearly unhappy, and unsure of herself she seems to spend her days drifting from one temporary job to the next with no romantic prospects in sight. She is, at least in her own eyes, the failure of the Atwater family.
_The novel opens on a typical Sunday, the girls have gathered at the family home for brunch with Mom (Dad is out of town on business) and the scene is warm, inviting, and full of engaging and well-written dialogue that draws the reader into the family dynamics.
_Later that afternoon, Lulu is asked by her mother to go to the attic and retrieve a collection of family recipes for an upcoming exhibition at the Massachusetts Historical Society. This trip to the attic gives us the main point-of-view character (Lulu) and the story begins here.
_What Lulu finds among the piles of old books and discarded toys is not the privately published recipe book but a collection of letters written by her famous great-great-grandmother Josephine "Jo" March when she was a young woman. The first letter, dated June 1869 to sister Meg, describes the pain in her life since losing Beth. Lulu's attention is immediately captured.
_As the weeks unfold, life gets messy and confusing and Lulu finds comfort as she continues to visit the attic. Reading her great-grandmother Jo's letters helps Lulu change how she views herself, her family, especially her sisters, and the world she lives in.
_A fun read.
Writers Workshop - There is a lot going on in this novel, an abundance of characters, multiple pov's (although Lulu seems to be the lead), a lot of intense family drama, great dialogue, and of course the letters great-great-grandmother Jo Marsh wrote. Gabrielle Donnelly is clearly an experienced author (she has written several books and writes show business articles in L.A.). She credits "Lydia Newhouse, my wonderfully imaginative first editor, who had the idea in the first place and was kind enough to commission me to carry it out...." Ideas come from many sources and are expanded by asking "what if?" (what if a beloved fictional character left a collection of letters). Stories are often developed around interesting characters. Characters are best revealed through dialogue. Miss Donnelly's dialogue is well-written, sounds genuine. Reading the exchanges between the sisters is a rich example of how-to-do-it.

An advance copy of this novel was provided by the publisher Simon & Shuster, A Touchtone Book for review. These comments are my own.

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