The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty
So I defy any body who has ever been on, or wanted to go on a girls' weekend, not to be intrigued by the premise of this novel!
Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina have been friends since school and have always tried to take a weekend break together every year but recently careers, husbands and babies have started to make it harder for them to get time together - or at least quality time that allows them to really catch up with each other.
"...an entire gathering of responsible designated drivers. Boring. No one had had a proper conversation either because each and every sentence was punctuated by 'Ruby! Share!' or 'Leif! Gentle!'"
As they finally manage to get together on their annual holiday together, Joni is desperate to find a way to bring the group back together and once again share their most intimate and deep secrets. At school they shared a diary so she suggests they each write an anonymous letter to the group, revealing their darkest secret. The letters will then be read aloud. Each of them agrees, not foreseeing how this might affect their friendship - I mean, they know everything about each other already, right?
Truth or lie? Will the women still feel able to confess their darkest secrets or will they make up something else to throw everyone wide of the reality they are not willing to share?
Will anything ever be the same again?
It is clear from the outset that there will be devastating consequences for the girls following the revelations of the weekend. The novel opens with Joni seeking the wisdom of a priest:
"I was going to talk to a psychologist. Or a psychiatrist........but they were all either booked out for weeks and weeks or [I needed] a referral....And I couldn't really wast that kind of time, besides, you don't cost anything, so that's a bonus"
And what is it she needs to confess after a weekend away with her oldest friends?
"I almost cheated on my husband. I've compromised my own morals in my work. I've betrayed my friends, I've judged my friends, I've pushed my friends to breaking point. ...."
Oh. Quite a lot. Just what went on between these women on this weekend away?
We spend the majority of the book with Joni. Joni organises the holiday and feels like she has to take control arranging any meet up. She is the "rule follower" , who always goes to the gym, is sensible, likes an early bedtime and most importantly, seems more dependent on the annual meet up than any of the others. Joni also seems to be harbouring some resentment and jealousy towards her friends as she is the only one not to have children. She blames the widening gap between them on the arrival of all the babies and the complications they bring to a social life. It also seems that she is caught up in
chasing a memory of how the friendship was. She seems unable to accept the changes and is ignoring the cracks that seem to be appearing between the characters.
She has a real issue that they "never talk properly any more," and therefore when she seizes upon the idea that they should each write a secret letter, she is excited. She thinks she has finally found "the catalyst she'd been looking for to really restore their friendship."
And so the story continues. The main narrative is broken up with dialogue between Joni and the priest which helps Joni to fill in the reader with extra detail as well as help the author pose some of the reader's questions through the priest's voice. We follow Joni's point of view throughout most of the novel although Moriarty's choice of staying in the third person does mean she can furnish us with extra insight when appropriate.
The letters all contain some revelation that affects the group dynamics. Ranging from minor confessions about things most of the characters had guessed, to confessions which are more like embarrassing secrets, to confessions which shock the friends who thought they had always been privy to every part of each others' lives.
And then there is a fifth letter. A letter that should never have been read by anyone. A letter that was swapped out at the last minute as its content is too devastating, too confessional and too full of long burning secrets. So what happens when it is found? And which of the girls wrote it?
I enjoyed reading the letters and I enjoyed reading about the girls' reactions as they tried to work out who might have written it. It was interesting to watch the dynamics of the group unravel and see that the bonds between them were not actually as concrete as they thought. Accusations, judgements, jealousy and rivalry are all rife and the relationships between the women quickly disintegrate.
This is Moriarty's debut and it is an ambitious starting point. The premise is gripping but it is a challenge to weave a tale of four backstories, four secrets, four characters with issues, while maintaining tension and suspense. It is also a real challenge to ensure the reader has plenty of empathy for the protagonists while their behaviour is scrutinised.
There were certain passages I really enjoyed - like when the narrative shows us what the characters were really doing in the recent past and why Joni might have missed it or not noticed. I think this shows us all that once we have families and a range of pressing commitments, sometimes it is hard to give friends the time they need or sometimes it is hard to ask for help. Moriarty explores a lot of questions about friendship, truth and openness.
It's perhaps not quite the novel for me but I enjoyed aspects of the storyline and was interested in the ever changing dynamics between the group. There is also a very satisfying resolution where all the loose ends are tied up and a reassuring epilogue that rounds the story off well. I think it will be a popular read and perfect for holidays or weekends - although perhaps not a girls' weekend away!!
I mean, do you know your friends well enough to share your deepest secrets with them?!
"It's a funny truth that you can never fully know everything there is to know about a person, regardless of how close you think you are. Because people will always have certain secrets that they will keep to themselves, for as long as they can."
This book is a like a good episode of 'Gossip Girl' or perhaps an episode of the UK TV series 'Mistresses'. It's chick lit and it's a fast paced, easy read with plenty of melodrama and plot twists. If you want something easy, with a balance of humour, drama, trauma and happiness then this is the book for you!
"The Fifth Letter" is published on 23rd February by Penguin.
Nicola Moriarty lives in Sydney's north west with her husband and two small daughters. She is the younger sister of bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Jaclyn Moriarty. In between various career changes, becoming a mum and studying teaching at Macquarie University, she began to write. Now, she can't seem to stop.
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