Author Charlotte Nash’s most recent novel, Twenty-Six Letters (Allen and Unwin 2022) has a little of everything: mystery, family drama, romance, secrets, endearing characters, humour and a page-turning plot. I adored the premise of this story, the gradual release of information through found letters and the interesting family dynamics played out by the characters. I especially loved Wilhelmina, who is a Flea Bag kind of 30-something woman, a bit lost in the world, drifting without a plan, prone to accidents and disasters, and suffering an inner turmoil as to the meaning of life and her place in it.
The book opens with Wil finding herself locked up, an experience not predictable but not entirely surprising, either. At 30, she has been taking these sorts of knocks her whole life. But then she receives a packet of old letters written to her from her mother who died when Wil was very young, letters she was supposed to receive earlier but for various reasons on par with the turmoil in her life, she didn’t. The letters reveal to her the mother she barely remembers, writing of her early life. The letters also tear open the wounds Wil has held shut for so many years, emotional grief and unresolved tensions. In a feisty move, she travels on a whim to the small English village where her mother grew up, hoping to find more answers in another set of letters apparently hidden in a secret spot. Will she find the letters? Will they still be in place after so many years? Might others have found them first? And if she does find them, will they contain anything she wants to know, or only information she was better off not knowing?
Wil is a fantastic character – wilful, funny, spontaneous, accident-prone, untethered and often unemployed. She has a distinctive and delightful dry sense of humour which shines through even the most moving and sensitive parts of this story. And it is a warm and captivating novel, one that explores identity, family connection, our origin stories, shame, secrets and place.
Nash’s writing is accessible, page-turning and authentic, with quirky dialogue and lovely descriptions. If you enjoyed Michelle Upton’s debut Terms of Inheritance, or if you love English villages, Antiques Roadshow, Grand Designs or quick-witted and fabulously irreverent protagonists, then Twenty-Six Letters is for you.