A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of reading British author Gabrielle Donnelly’s “The Little Women Letters”. I had received the book as an advanced reader copy while attending the BBC part of BEA in New York in May. (See also my recent post of a video clip of Ms. Donnelly discussing her book). I really enjoyed reading this modern day novel of three sisters who parallel and are the descendents of the fictional March sisters of “Little Women”.
The Atwater sisters live in London and are the great great granddaughters of Jo March. Emma is the always sensible eldest, similar to Meg March. Sophie is the beautiful and somewhat self-centered youngest sister, similar to Amy March. And Lulu is the middle child, seeking to find her way, parallel to Jo March. Their mother is actually somewhat similar to the real “Mrs. March” Abba May Alcott: a feminist and social worker. They even have a crotchety old aunt from Boston – Aunt Amy in this case – similar to Aunt March. Notably, Beth March is missing (a wise choice, in my estimation). The girls seek to solve the various issues in their everyday lives, while Lulu finds a stash of letters written by Jo March to her sisters long ago. The similarities are striking and she takes solace in these letters as she struggles to find a job, a profession, and a relationship with a man.
I think I’ve written before of how I am an incredibly harsh critic of fictionalized stories of Louisa May Alcott since I am quite knowledgeable about the family and spend time at their house museum in Concord. I was a tad sceptical when I began this book as I feared I would once again be disappointed by the actions or discordant voices I might find. However, this book is not about the Alcotts, it is about the March family – and a family in modern times. I was struck by what an excellent job Ms. Donnelly did in capturing not only the voices of the March sisters of “Little Women”, but the essence of the Alcotts as well. There were too many similarities and subtleties between the real family and this novel to think that it was coincidence. Ms. Donnelly not only did her homework, but did an excellent job in capturing that embodiment of character that is Alcott. My hat’s off to her!
This is a book that I would read, put down, and then pick up again. The story moved much like “Little Women” does: a slice of life in a family of sisters. I am guessing LW fans will adore it.