Letters from an Unknown Woman

Written by Gerard Woodward
Review by Audrey Braver

It is 1941. Tory Pace’s children have been evacuated from London to the safety of Upper Slaughter in the Cotswolds, and she has not heard from her soldier husband in six months. Her mother, whom everyone (Tory included) calls Mrs. Head, has come to stay with her so she won’t be alone. Tory does her bit of war work in Farraway’s gelatine factory. Her life is now spent in near total exhaustion. She doesn’t want to wash or clean up after her work and bathes only occasionally. Her only outlet is writing letters to her children. Certain her husband has been killed, Tory cannot openly grieve for him without official notice. Then she receives a letter from her husband, Donald, a POW in Germany, with an unusual request, one Tory feels incapable of fulfilling until she begins an affair with her boss, George Farraway, who inspires her to write the kind of letters her husband wants. After the war, a partially crippled Donald returns to his family, and Tory’s life goes downhill.

Woodward provides a detailed portrait of London during and after World War II. Tory’s character changes in a logical progression from mousy housewife to a subservient but stronger matriarch while she wrestles with the strange husband who returns to her. War and, as in Donald’s case, imprisonment and disability naturally change a man’s character. Donald, however, is struggling with the additional baggage of guilt and suspicion and his own betrayal.