Review by Kylie Thompson
Rating: 2 and a half stars
Genre: Non-fiction, love letters, history, relationships
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
‘Yours Always’ isn’t a book about love, at least, not in the way you might expect. This isn’t a book filled to overflowing with the joyful kind of Hollywood love, rich with the certainty of a happily ever after.
Instead, it’s a collection of writings about love as a spectrum- the unrequited, the bad, and the gut-wrenchingly painful. As a concept, it’s utterly compelling; after all, who hasn’t struggled to find their feet when love starts going wrong? Who doesn’t long to feel like they’re not alone in their misery, and that others have survived their own brush with that pain? And yet, though the premise is sound, I struggled to love this book.
The problem I have with ‘Yours Always’ is that there’s large amounts of lead in for relatively small snippets of the actual correspondences. So much, in fact, that there’s an overview of what you’re going to read before you get to actually read it. In a sense, we’re reading each piece twice, and the actual reading feels at times like an afterthought to the editor’s musings. It’s a shame, because these pieces stand on their own, easily, without being explained to the point they might as well not even be there.
Besides, do we really, truly, need the ideas of longing and heartbreak explained to us so entirely? Can we not trust that these creative souls were capable of conveying their emotions? Isn’t the whole point of this book that these letters are so full of the human condition that we can’t help but relate to them?
I found myself wanting more- more of the letters, more connection to the original works than to Bass’s retelling of what I was about to read. While setting the scene is vital- not everyone will know every writer, or every historical event, after all- by the time the entire history is laid out for readers there’s little left for the original works to convey.
In fact, in some cases, this honesty goes so far as to impact the reading. There’s a bittersweet futility to many of the pieces included here- once you’ve read the introduction and learned the fate of the relationship, it feels a little like reading on page 1 that your favourite character dies on page 113. You distance yourself, look for the cracks in the armour rather than exploring the nuances of the letters.
It’s a shame, because the letters themselves are glorious. They’re windows into the past, reminders that everyone sports a broken heart, no matter how great their status or circumstances. They’re aching and poetic, heartbreaking and profound, and an incredible glimpse into the lives of some of the biggest players in history. And in that sense, ‘Yours Always’ is an impressive starting point for anyone wanting to explore historical letters, and to get a sense of their heroes outside of their spotlights. It’s a sampler, rather than a banquet, Cliff Notes rather than the original text, and if that’s your particular brand of vodka, you’re in for a treat here.
‘Yours Always’ is published by Allen & Unwin, and is available at leading retailers both online and off.