cover image The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant

Kayte Nunn. Morrow, $16.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-297058-9

In Nunn’s beautifully written but uneven latest (after The Botanist’s Daughter), a nosy marine scientist leads an old woman to connect with her past via a cache of love letters. In 1951, Esther Durrant’s husband, John, sends her to the remote English island of Little Embers, entrusting his old school friend, psychiatrist Richard Creswell, to treat her postpartum depression. Richard is immediately transfixed by Esther’s “startling violet-grey eyes,” while she feels a new sense of being “thrillingly alive” in his presence. Richard’s passionate declarations to Esther are uncovered decades later by a researcher named Rachel Parker who is studying clams on the islands surrounding Little Embers. After Rachel nearly drowns in a storm and is rescued by reclusive painter Leah, she rummages through an old suitcase left in Leah’s attic by previous tenants, in which she finds love letters written from “R” to “E. Durrant.” Meanwhile, in London, Esther now works on her memoirs with help from her granddaughter Eve, whose own curiosity is piqued when Esther reveals she has something important to share. Rachel locates Esther and gives her the chance to reveal her long-held secret. While Nunn’s descriptions of Esther and Richard’s emotional bond are heavy-handed and a late plot twist is predictable, the bond between Esther and Eve is natural and affecting. This drawn-out love story misses the mark. (Mar.)