Letters strip bare love

• Yvette Walker with her acclaimed book, which she’ll happily sell you at the bookshop where she works. Photo by Jeremy Dixon

• Yvette Walker with her acclaimed book, which she’ll happily sell you at the bookshop where she works. Photo by Jeremy Dixon

‘You have to find the person who loves your book’

JOURNALISTS all think they’ll write a book one day—when the mortgage is paid, when the kids are older—there’s a million reasons, but when the time’s right they’ll write that best- seller.

My author dream was left in tatters after reading Letters to the End of Love, and I faced the sad truth—I can never come close to writing words so mellifluously beautiful nor portray emotion so nakedly bare and evocative.

This is Mt Lawley local Yvette Walker’s first novel, although she has more than a few short stories to her credit.

Spanning the decades from 1948 to 2011, Walker captures perfectly the tone of time and place, from the UK to Ireland to Australia, and nails the varying ages of her characters to a T as they pen missives of love.

Set against the domestic lives of three couples, it’s a novel about relationships and what it means when they might be coming to an end.

Walker uses the almost forgotten art of the epistolary novel to touch on those issues close to her heart, without any sugar-coated sentimentality.

“I wanted to talk about love quite a bit and letters seemed the way to do that,” she says, admitting there’s more than a little of herself and those close to her in the characters, especially gay Perth couple Grace and Lou, who bear a close resemblance to herself and her partner Melanie.

Letters from Russian-born Dimtri to his Irish wife touch on the brutal regime of Stalin while English doctor John’s letters to German lover David delicately explore the otherwise virtually unremarked upon subject of homosexual men who suffered and died in Nazi concentration camps.

Walker’s language is superb and she is the mistress of the metaphor: One of my favourites (perhaps because I had a seafaring father) describes the voice of John’s father as “the sound of seawater pounding Bournemouth rocks”.

“I love metaphors [they] are the bedrock of literary writing,” Walker says. At times the right one seems to come forth naturally enough through a character’s voice. “[Other] times you work like a dog and 50 redrafts later it drops in.”

The 43-year-old won a prestigious magazine literary competition 10 years ago, which came with a verbal agreement from a major publisher they’d look at her manuscript.

“When I finished and sent it [the publisher] declined. I was devastated.”

After a career haunting bookshops she was undeterred, sending her manuscript to publishers in the US, UK and Australia, an exercise she compared to “literary speed-dating”.

“You have to find the person who loves your book—and try not to take it too personally [when they don’t].”

The University of Queensland Press called back.

“Out of the blue I got the magical call. At eleven in the morning,” the elated Walker says.

Still working at a bookshop, she’s sometimes asked by customers who have no idea who she is if she can recommend her (prominently displayed) book.

With Letters to the End of Love selling like hot cakes, the modest author is getting used to it.

And with her novel now garnering interest from critics, and speaking tours in the eastern states lined up, Walker may well have the last laugh on the publisher who rejected her.

Letters to the End of Love ($22.95) can be found at all good bookshops.


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