Having read some pretty strange books recently (The Unconsoled and The Unbearable Lightness of Being spring to mind), I really wanted to read something that was based upon some good old-fashioned story-telling and a linear plot. On one hand, I wanted a book that wasn’t too taxing on the brain. On the other hand, I wanted a book that I wouldn’t be embarrassed to read in public on a train. ‘The Sealed Letter’ by Emma Donoghue was just what I needed.
Donoghue is the author of ‘Room‘ which was nominated for the Booker Prize in 2010. I read it earlier this year (one of my very first reviews for this blog in fact) and it’s a story that really did stay with me. Of course, ‘Room’ is very much a one-off book in terms of its themes, characters and events and so it was only natural that Donoghue’s other work would be completely different – and ‘The Sealed Letter’ certainly is. The book is based on the true story of the Codrington v. Codrington divorce case in the mid nineteenth century in London. A chance encounter between Helen Codrington and her old friend Emily ‘Fido’ Faithfull is the catalyst of events. It soon transpires that Helen is having an affair with her ‘close friend’ Colonel Anderson while her husband, Vice-Admiral Henry Codrington, quickly develops his own suspicions.
The depth of historical detail, particularly regarding the position of women in the Victorian era, is exceptional and easily comparable to the novels of Sarah Waters. Donoghue truly brings the setting and especially her characters to life. She very cleverly elicits sympathy from the reader towards all three main characters in spite of their contradictory positions in the case. Even though the blurb of the book implies scandal, I would say it is the intrigue which carries the plot along and gives the characters their multiple layers. The courtroom drama in the second half of the book is lengthy yet it still completely held my attention throughout and the author’s note at the end about the context of the real case and what happened afterwards is also fascinating.
‘The Sealed Letter’ is so different from ‘Room’ that you would hardly know it is written by the same author. Highly recommended all the same.
11 responses to “The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue”
Good to know, because I wasn’t a fan of “Room.” I didn’t buy “the voice,” and that was a book that really needed the reader to buy into into “the voice.” Having read this, I might give her next book a try.
Haven’t read any of her books. Hesitated about boring it from one of my book club buddies but may give this a try instead. It sounds more like my cup of tea than Room. I’m claustrophobic for God’s sake!
I love the diversity of Emma Donoghue’s fiction, both in subject matter and style. I started out with her historical novels, but also love her contemporary short stories. Touchy Subjects is a wonderful collection.
I still need to read Room. Thanks for the reminder.
I like Emma Donoghue although Room is still sitting in my Reader (I’m saving it for a big trip). This one sounds like the kind of thing I like so I’ll definitely load it on too. Thanks for the review!
I haven’t read Room yet, the story wasn’t appealing to me but this novel seems to be more interesting. Thanks for the review!
I loved it, especially when the author makes you take sides and on the next page, you are supporting another character.
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Really loved reading ‘Room’ and have wanted to read The sealed Letter for a while now… must get round to it having read this 🙂 great review!
I read The Room a while ago and found it very disturbing but brilliantly written. I’m glad that this one is completely different because I don’t think I could handle another ‘Room’ like book at the moment. Going on my reading list for 2013!
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