I do love an epistolary novel, and this one by Rosy Thornton is a lot of fun. The letters that open the novel are written by Margaret Hayton to her MP about such matters as taxes on feminine sanitary products, the British government’s sluggishness on greenhouse gas regulations, and the disrepair of the zip line on the local playground. Her MP, Richard Slater, writes her off as an old-lady crank and sends back form letters. But, eventually, he realizes he needs to be more visible to his constituents to restore his reputation with the government after voting against the war in Iraq. So, in response to a letter from Margaret about a refugee woman the WITCH group (for Women of Ipswich Together Combating Homelessness) is helping, he invites Margaret to come meet with him. He is surprised to see that she’s young and attractive, and he’s impressed with her passion and ends up trying to help.
The relationship between Margaret and Richard is chronicled in their letters and e-mails to each other, to friends and family, from Margaret’s landlady to her husband, a handful of newspaper articles, and minutes of weekly WITCH meetings. As Margaret and Richard attempt to help Nasreen, the Albanian refugee, they get closer to each other. Miscommunications and misunderstandings occur, each of them grows up a little, and so on.
It’s a typical romcom plot, with two charming, good-hearted people falling in love while surrounded by quirky friends and personal dramas, some of which are quite serious, involving sexual abuse and suicide. Along the way, Richard learns to put people before politics, and Margaret learns not to let her initial assumptions get the better of her. (Margaret doesn’t have as far to go as Richard, but she does make some serious errors in the heat of the moment.)
And that’s about all there is to say about this book. It was fun to read. I had heard that it was a modernization of North and South, but, if so, it’s a loose one. Margaret is named after the heroine of Gaskell’s novel, and she shares the same passion for doing good, I think it’s more that is provided some general inspiration, rather than a framework on which to build. And that’s fine. It’s an enjoyable story on its own.