All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty

on March 6, 2017

fifth-letterThe Fifth Letter
Nicola Moriarty
Harper Collins AUS
2017, 319p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

How do you know if your friends actually like you?

Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina try to catch up once a year for some days away together. Now in their thirties, commitments have pulled them in different directions, and the closeness they once enjoyed growing up seems increasingly elusive.

This year, determined to revive their intimacy, they each share a secret in an anonymous letter to be read out during the holiday. But instead of bringing them closer, the revelations seem to drive them apart. Then a fifth letter is discovered, venting long-held grudges, and it seems that one of the women is in serious danger. But who was the author? And which of them should be worried?

THE FIFTH LETTER examines the bonds of women’s friendship groups, and the loyalty and honesty they demand, along with letting go of relationships that once seemed essential but are now outgrown.

This is Nicola Moriarty’s third book and having read and loved her previous two it was one of my highly anticipated early 2017 releases. Her sister Liane has obviously made some huge leaps in popularity with her most recent releases but I think this book could easily stand alongside any of those.

At 12 years of age, Joni befriended Deb, Trina and Eden because they were all in the same homeroom, had surnames beginning with the same letter and were the same star sign. It started off on shaky ground but over the years became a friendship that survived Eden moving interstate for a while, the transition between school and university/careers as well as marriages and children. Every year it falls to Joni to organise an annual getaway where they leave partners and children behind and just catch up properly, the way that they can’t leading busy lives.

The story is told in several timelines – firstly the girls meeting in high school, and also various moments throughout as well as the time spent in a holiday home where the titular fifth letter is written and also Joni confessing to a priest, talking out the situation that had unfolded after the letter was found but before the author was identified. I actually really enjoyed those passages and thought they added a bit of light humour to the situation.

The idea of the letters seemed disastrous before anyone even wrote one and perhaps alcohol was the reason they all agreed. Interestingly enough, despite the fact that they’ve known each other for twenty years, Joni guesses several of the authors of the letters incorrectly but the others all seem to guess which letter is Joni’s right away. What started off as a bit of a joke turns serious very quickly when the anonymous letters reveal some disturbing things that could easily fracture the friendships – but those are nothing compared to the contents of a the fifth letter, a letter one of them wrote and then attempted to destroy. That letter suggests that one of them could be truly dangerous, thinking thoughts of harm and hatred.

I have to say, I loved the way that this unfolded. Nicola Moriarty really kept me guessing with who wrote the fifth letter and at one stage I was sure I had it figured out – but of course I was wrong. Slowly the book unpicked the friendship piece by piece until you were left wondering how and why they were still friends at all. Was it simply because Joni’s tenacity, which started in forming the group at 12 years of age, never went away? Joni even mentions at one stage that the other women seem to have friends away from this core group – work friends, mothers group friends, etc. As the only one without children, Joni doesn’t seem to have other friends other than these 3 women that she went to school with, whom she formed a relationship with based on the fact that their surnames all began with the same letter and they were the same star sign.

I’m about the same age as the women in the novel – perhaps one or two years older and it made me think about my own friendships. I’ve moved interstate since I finished school and so I wouldn’t say I’m still good “friends” with anyone from my high school group. We all live in very different places – my best friend from school currently lives in Nice after stints in New Zealand, Sydney and country NSW. Her husband has a job that takes them all over the world. Through facebook we are able to stay vaguely in touch with each other’s lives – a marriage here, new baby there, new job etc and it’s the same with my other high school friends. Facebook keeps us up to date with each other but we are no longer what I would call friends. If we were all together still, living in the same place, I wonder how long the friendships would’ve lasted, or would we have just slowly drifted away one by one – or cut people loose as we evolved and changed as adults. Or would there have been a Joni, someone to shepherd the friendship along so that it survived?

I enjoyed everything about this – especially the characters. To be honest, I didn’t really like any of them as such, but I thought that they were so well written with flaws, secrets, jealousies, etc all the ugly little things that we all keep hidden underneath. I loved the mystery of who wrote the fifth letter and the way that it kept me guessing until pretty much the end.


Book #40 of 2017


The Fifth Letter is the 13th book of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017


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