The Little Women Letters | Gabrielle Donnelly

Oh dear!


Such a light weight disappointment. The whole time I skimmed through The Little Women Letters, I kept hoping it would get better or suddenly develop more substance, but I hoped in vain.

The modern story was mildly interesting as sisters finding their way in the contemporary world; falling in love; working; leaving home etc.

But Jo’s letters in the attic were simply tedious. I skimmed all the way to the end just to see if it would end the way I predicted…and it did.

Modern treatments of a classic, much-loved story are tricky things. So many times they just don’t work.

Geraldine Brook’s March worked for me once I let go the notion that I was reading a children’s book about Jo, Beth, Meg & Amy. Brook’s wrote a very adult novel about Mr March and his experiences during the Civil War. And at that level it was a very successful, enjoyable story. 

But this one doesn’t work for me at all – it was charmless, dull and not worth the effort. Much better to spend the time re-reading Little Women and Good Wives instead. The blurb (below) is better than the book!

Vibrant, fresh, and intelligent, The Little Women Letters explores the imagined lives of Jo March’s descendants—three sisters who are both thoroughly modern and thoroughly March. As uplifting and essential as Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Gabrielle Donnelly’s novel will speak to anyone who’s ever fought with a sister, fallen in love with a fabulous pair of shoes, or wondered what on earth life had in store for her.

With her older sister, Emma, planning a wedding and her younger sister, Sophie, preparing to launch a career on the London stage, Lulu can’t help but feel like the failure of the Atwater family. Lulu loves her sisters dearly and wants nothing but the best for them, but she finds herself stuck in a rut, working dead-end jobs with no romantic prospects in sight. When her mother asks her to find a cache of old family recipes in the attic of her childhood home, Lulu stumbles across a collection of letters written by her great-great-grandmother Josephine March. In her letters, Jo writes in detail about every aspect of her life: her older sister, Meg’s, new home and family; her younger sister Amy’s many admirers; Beth’s illness and the family’s shared grief over losing her too soon; and the butterflies she feels when she meets a handsome young German.

As Lulu delves deeper into the lives and secrets of the March sisters, she finds solace and guidance, but can the words of her great-great-grandmother help Lulu find a place for herself in a world so different from the one Jo knew?

Some things, of course, remain unchanged: the stories and jokes that form a family’s history, the laughter over tea in the afternoon, the desire to do the right thing in spite of obstacles. And above all, of course, the fierce, undying, and often infuriating bond of sisterhood that links the Atwater women every bit as firmly as it did the March sisters all those years ago. Both a loving tribute to Little Women and a wonderful contemporary family story, The Little Women Letters is a heartwarming, funny, and wise novel for today.

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