Monday, April 9, 2012

BOOK: The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue, 397 pages

2nds Challenge; What's in a Name 5: something in your purse or backpack; Orange Longlist 2012

Life was very different for women in Victorian London. Emma Donaghue looks at what it would be like to be unhappily married for a gentle-women with very few options. Using real characters, like Emily 'Fido' Faithful, and based on the real divorce case of Helen and Henry Codrington, she takes the reader into the 1860s and the legal process. This sounds dry, but this book is anything but dry.

Helen Codrington is an old friend of Fido's. Fido is a modern woman, supporter of the Cause, spinster, and part of the group of women promoting increased working rights for women. Helen has recently returned from Malta with her naval husband, and a close 'friend' that she is enamoured of. The story follows their interactions and the events leading up to the divorce case, often from Fido's naive perspective. The court case is riveting, and as each witness tells their version of truth, it makes you wonder how legal decisions are every properly made. The characters are fascinating with all their complex motives, and the helplessness of a woman's position makes me realize how far we've come.

I liked this story on three levels: the plot and characters moved along so fast and kept me interested, the court case and the legal process, and then the historical aspect of women's rights and how power in marriage has changed. For people who have read Donaghue's very popular book Room, The Sealed Letter is a very different book. It's hard to believe they are written by the same author - Donaghue is very talented! If you told me The Sealed Letter was an old book by Sarah Waters, I would have been less surprised.

This book has been nominated for the 2012 Orange Prize longlist, and since it was previously published in Canada, it was also longlisted for the Giller Prize in 2008.

also reviewed: jill at the magic lasso; jackie at farm lane books;