Manchester – Vermont – Ireland – The Letter – Kathryn Hughes


Why a booktrail?

1930s, 1970s – Manchester. Two women living decades apart in Manchester are united by one very important letter which was never delivered.


A novel of love and hope across the decades.

1930s/40s –  A letter written on 4th September 1939 will have consequences which reach out across the decades hoping that one day an answer will come and the truth will be discovered. For the letter from a young man named Billy to a girl Christina was never delivered but found in the pocket of an old suit, left in a charity shop.

1970s Manchester – Tina finds this letter and starts to try and find who wrote it and what happened to the people it speaks of. It is a a moving letter, full of heartbreaking emotion and the pull of curiosity is just too great to leave alone. Tina suffers from an abusive marriage and recognises the sentiments of feeling trapped, longing to escape one’s past. She feels that by communicating with a stranger in the past, she can make sense of the future and escape her own reality.

Place and setting

Manchester, Vermont and Ireland - all featured in a heartbreaking story! Manchester Central Library The bulk of the novel is set in Manchester and without giving anything of the plot away, Central Library in St Peter’s square plays a pivotal part.
Manchester, Vermont and Ireland – all featured in a heartbreaking story!
Manchester Central Library
The bulk of the novel is set in Manchester and without giving anything of the plot away, Central Library in St Peter’s square plays a pivotal part.

Manchester 1970s

– Ireland and Vermont are also mentioned in the novel but the main action is set in and around Manchester –

Tina Craig is married to Rick, a drunken yob who tries to control her at every turn. He steals her escape fund and her life is one of daily drudgery and violence. The moment she finds a letter in the charity shop where she works, her world becomes a bit more hopeful and wider. 1973 is the year of the Grand National and Rick is depending on a win. Red Rum to win for Tina knows what is coming if the horse does not come in.

This letter introduces her to another woman across the years and soon she parallels her life to that of Chrissie from the 1940s also suffering at the hands of a brutal man, this time her father who thinks he can control everything she does. The link between these two women stretches out against a bleak yet hopeful Manchester setting.

Manchester in the 1940s was not the place where women could go out freely with men and when if your parents didn’t like who you were dating, things could get very messy indeed. Girls were not expected to get pregnant outside of wedlock and men were expected to sign up to the war effort.

Manchester in the 1970s – Turns out history can repeat itself as social boundaries and personal freedom can be just as restrictive as they once were. Abusive marriages or the constraints of a father who ousted you from the family home for bringing shame on the family are both signs that what a person wants and what society sees and expects are not always the same thing.

The detail of the 1970s – evoked via tins of peaches, Carnation cream, and power cuts is crisp and clear. The fate of women in both the 1940s and 1970s are frightening and raw. Emotional on every level and a time to sit and think how times have thankfully changed for the better.


Next time you go inside a charity shop, take time to look in the pockets of a coat because if there’s the chance it sets you off on an adventure like this then count me in! This is one heck of an emotional ride mind. It reminded me of the story of Philomena in some respects with a child born out of wedlock and the resulting torment it brings. Abusive relationships and the feeling that history can put things right – or at least try to, is explored with full effect.

I did find the portrayal of domestic violence hard to read and Chrissie didn’t really have it much better – the abuse she suffered from her father was inexcusable. But this was a different time – still wrong though.

I felt so emotional for the two women. Hated what was happening to them and willed that letter to be found and read out. Oh take tissues with you when you read this, it’s heartbreaking and so sad. There is an event which happens later on to Tina which made me really angry and I had to stop reading such was its powerful effect. Brilliantly portrayed and evoked.

How the two stories wove together was really clever and it was like placing a black and white photo underneath a colour one and seeing the two pictures form a new one. Very, very emotional.

One last thing – I love the fact that a library was at the centre of the story. The author tells us that you can actually get married in this library and when you see it, you know why. Ooh this book has introduced me to the wonder of charity shops and the fact that libraries are even more magical than I thought. And that one short letter can have such a huge impact.

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