The Letter: Kitty’s Story by Eliza J Scott
Thirty-four-year-old Kitty Bennett is trapped in a loveless marriage to criminal barrister, Dan, who’s gradually isolated her from her family and friends. Until the day she (literally) bumps into her first love, the handsome and easy-going Ollie Cartwright – someone she’s done her best to avoid for as long as she can remember. Looking into Ollie’s eyes awakens feelings for him she thought she’d buried deep years ago, and he clearly feels the spark, too. As she walks away, Kitty can’t help but wonder what might have been…
Dan senses that his marriage is on shaky ground and knows he needs to win his wife round. He turns on the charm, skilfully using their two children, Lucas and Lily, as bargaining tools. But Kitty’s older brother, Jimby, and her childhood best-friends, Molly and Violet, have decided enough is enough. For years they’ve had to watch from afar as Kitty’s been browbeaten into an unrecognisable version of herself. They vow to make her see Dan for what he really is, but their attempts are no match for his finely-honed courtroom skills and, against her better judgement, Kitty agrees to give her husband one last chance. But, all-too-soon, a series of heart-breaking events and a shocking secret throw her life into turmoil…
Will she stand by Dan, or will Kitty be brave enough to take the leap and follow her heart to Ollie?
Life is anything but peaceful in the chocolate-box pretty village of Lytell Stangdale, where life unravels, and hearts are broken. Full of heart-warming moments, this book with have you crying tears of joy, laughter and sadness.
An amazing debut novel! I was blown away by its depth and perception. Yes its a romance, in fact several romances, but it is oh so much more!
Eliza J Scott has woven a colourful and complex tapestry that slowly reveals both its bright treasures and hidden demons. The author’s tale is about Kitty, her marriage to Dan, their children Lily and Lucas, and her wider family and friends. Eliza touches on what life is like in rural communities, where not everyone is friendly, and not everyone fits in. Within these communities, people find they have to rub along as best they can with as little friction as possible, and often fail. The mum’s at the school gate, rich incomers, poorer locals, mixing or not at the pub – the potential for disharmony can simmer ominously under the surface.
Whilst the central love interest is Kitty, her husband, and Oliver, this is not a single love story, nor are all the love stories about romantic love. For example, taking someone to your heart and into your family, irrespective of how and why they arrived in your life, is a great love story. (You’ll just have to read to know exactly what I mean). Sadly, whilst all the varying romantic entanglements weave and wind around the central relationships, the authors also deals with the very real and very abusive psychological manipulation known as ‘gaslighting’, but I will come to that later.
Eliza reveals her love of the wild, rugged, and wonderful North Yorkshire countryside, which she has made a character in this book whether she realises it or not. From the moors to the crags and dales, she evokes a place that has been moulded by time and nature, and its hardy people. I lived in Swaledale for several years, indeed my second child was born there, and Eliza’s evocative and stirring descriptions have given me a yearning to return. Her characters too, have been moulded by the history and environment of the dale. She cleverly delineates between the locals steeped in their community, the incomer who has taken on board the local culture and all that it means, and the incomer who remains aloof and distant from it. It is sometimes done subtly, and sometimes not, but that is merely a reflection of real life.
Kitty comes from a loving, decent local family which goes back many generations. As a teenager she had a budding romance with Oliver, until Daniel Bennett appeared on the scene. A handsome, educated young man full of confidence and his own self-importance, a belief instilled and fostered by his officious mother, Dan doesn’t so much sweep Kitty of her feet as entice and manipulate the innocent and naive seventeen year old into a relationship and marriage. They have two children for whom Kitty works hard to be a good mother, and works hard for them to have a good relationship with their seemingly stressed, hardworking father. She also works hard to maintain their perfect life, but the surface gloss hides a dark reality.
Dan is gaslighting Kitty. He has done so since the start of their relationship. It is one of the most widespread, insidious forms of abuse, and do not be fooled, we are all susceptible to it. It is not the exclusive domain of romantic relationships; it also encompasses parent-child relationships and the workplace for example. The name comes from the 1938 play Gas Light, which was also made into a film in the 1940s, where a man manipulates his wife until she believes she is losing her mind. Elements of gaslighting are when they blatantly lie, use your loved ones, including your children against you, block and distract you from family and friends, tell you that you are over-reacting, must be confused, not remembering correctly, too sensitive, it never happened, you need to calm down, you’re crazy. They do this and more until you find that you make excuses for their behaviour, constantly question yourself, struggle to make even simple decisions and feel that you always make bad choices anyway, constantly apologise, believe you are not good enough, change your appearance for them, and more.
Dan is toxic. He has over the years become a leading barrister with a high profile career, which has fed his ego and arrogance. He is convinced that he can and is entitled to do what he wants, and can justify his behaviour, including his adultery. Dan is clever in a manipulative way, using his education, position, charm, and good looks to disarm and control. He is emotionally abusive to all but one of his mistresses, and it is she who controls their relationship. In all of this he is aided and abetted by his equally toxic mother. While you can find a modicum of sympathy for a man who is the product of a scheming controlling mother, by the end you really just want to frog-march them both to the nearest psychiatric hospital and have them committed!
Kitty’s brother Jimby and her friends Violet and Molly are loyal to Kitty, and each in their own way has been as supportive as they can, but have been distanced by Dan. For them it is a Catch 22 situation. They point out his behaviour, she addresses it, he claims its proof of what he has said all long, that they don’t like him and want to split them up, so she defends him to everyone. Just seventeen when they meet, Kitty is young, naive, and inexperienced, and she reacts like a typical teenager when any parent seems to intervene. So in the end, bit by slow encroaching bit, she is isolated, her self-confidence undermined, and the strain of the emotional balancing act takes its toll. As the book progresses and characters reveal their true natures, we are rooting for her to act; for herself and for her children.
STOP – let’s take a breath, because this sounds dire and depressing, but in fact the book is chock full of warmth, humour, and fun, which makes reading the darker scenes less painful. The author writes with a ‘light hand’, so the reader is not pulled into Dan’s toxicity along with Kitty and her children.
The different characters in Lytell Strangdale are engaging, annoying, humorous, and frightful in equal measure.
Violet is a full on force of nature. Molly is hilarious and recounts awful tales from her work as a District Nurse, to the amusement and dread of her friends and family. Jimby is a real country bloke, with a great sense of humour. Oliver is lovely, and the layers to his life and character are gradually peeled away for us. Just as I was starting to feel that he was a little too good to be true, just a little too perfect, he behaves likes an ass. It was great!
Anyone who has lived in some of the more rural parts of the country will happily recognise the cast of characters, all of whom are terrific. My favourites though are Reg, who is an absolute legend; Granny Aggie and her predictive text messages; Lucas who is a little hero in his own right.
This is a wonderful story about love in all its varying forms and dimensions. It is also about caring and compassion, acceptance and second chances, and yes, even forgiveness. It is romantic, heart-warming and heart-felt. Eliza J Scott is a great writer and I cannot wait to see what she brings us next.
I give this a full five stars and highly recommend you read it.
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If anything regarding ‘gaslighting’ has triggered a need to get help or speak to someone here are places to contact:
Samaritans – call free any time, from any phone on 116 123
Refuge – if you think you may be experiencing domestic violence visit the website for support and information OR call 0808 2000 247 – the 24-Hour Freephone National Domestic Violence Helpline, run by Refuge and Women’s Aid.