Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Fictional trail of letters leads to insight on human nature

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Fans of good old-fashioned letter writing and smooth, solid prose will be happy to snuggle up with this second fiction offering from British author Deborah McKinlay. Somewhat reminiscent of Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows' The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, McKinlay's new novel uses letters as a means to explore character and relationships.

Jackson, a famous American novelist, has spent his life using his rugged good looks and charisma as bait for the fawning women who come into his life. He receives a heartfelt letter from Eve, a British fan; their mutual love of food encourages them to enter into a snail-mail correspondence that stretches into weeks, then months.

Over time, as Jackson's glamorous life begins to lose its lustre and Eve's life of consideration for others threatens to swallow her whole, the letters become a haven for them both.

Superficial at first, their missives become more and more personal. Outgoing letters are cathartic; incoming ones supportive. Little by little, the letters take on increasing importance in the lives of the two correspondents. In spite of the ocean that separates them, their face-to-face meeting appears inevitable.

And then, just when the reader thinks the ending is clear, McKinlay tosses in a few surprises.

McKinlay's background has been largely non-fiction, with contributions to U.K. editions of Vogue, Elle and Esquire, as well as a half-dozen non-fiction/humour book titles. Her non-fiction indicates a journalist's solid grasp of current trends; her fiction shows her to be a talented and insightful storyteller.

McKinlay's first novel, The View From Here (2011), hinted at a voice that could both entertain and charm. Her newest offering confirms this, with writing that flows well and propels the reader onward.

Some uncomfortable shifts in viewpoint may cause old-school writing teachers to cringe. In what is essentially a novel of two viewpoints, McKinlay occasionally drops in a sentiment from one or another additional character. Whether these lapses can be attributed to lack of craft or to deliberate form is unclear. But although they jar at the moment of their appearance, they don't detract significantly from the overall quality.

That Part Was True is a light and cosy romance, but it also has a deeper message. It suggests that our behaviour and the very language we use are less reflections of our essential nature than they are simply expressions of the roles we play.

Given McKinlay's ability to convey the complex nature of personalities and relationships in the context of a good story, it will be no surprise to see this author's fiction gain increasing popularity.


Angela Narth is a Winnipeg author and literary reviewer. Her most recent work, a chapter on writing children's literature, is slated for release in spring 2014 in the anthology Writing After Retirement: Tips by Successful Retired Writers, from Scarecrow Press.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 8, 2014 G8


Updated on Saturday, February 8, 2014 at 9:00 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

2:20 PM: fixed typo

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