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The Sealed Letter
by Emma Donoghue

Release Date: 13th Oct 2011
Publisher: Picador
ISBN: 978 1 4472 0597 5
RRP: £16.99

Average Customer Rating: 
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Disappointingly dull account of an historically scandalous divorce...


Victorian England: a woman’s place is by the hearth of the home, tending to issues of domesticity and caring for the offspring of her beloved husband, albeit in a standoffish, supervisory capacity. In stark contrast: Fido Faithfull is part of a small radical group of women determined to change the world for the fairer sex. She sees herself as a business woman; a publisher, no less. Self-sufficient and content to resign herself to spinsterhood, Fido is reluctant to take up the reins of an old, believed to be consigned to the past, friendship.

A chance meeting on a busy London street and the old wound of friendship is torn open again. Helen is like a black hole. Anything that enters her orbit seemingly unable to disentangle themselves without massive effort and force of will; and Fido falls prey to Helen’s injurious depths and into the scandal of divorce.

And that’s about it. The details of The Sealed Letter are somewhat predictable: the wife is guilty of adultery with some dashing younger officer; the much older and cuckolded husband is painfully disabused of his tentative belief that his wife is merely flighty and the stout, unattractive friend is perpetually dragged in where she would best not go. Donoghue’s deliberately stylised writing correspond beautifully to the era and adherence to social niceties, conventions and etiquette are particularly interesting, but the substance lacks… something. If pressed, I would say that it lacks urgency, suspense… a foreboding. Divorce is so far removed from being scandalous in the 21st Century, that is seems inconceivable that an entire novel could be dedicated to the build up and thrashing out of such a banal subject. My guess is that The Sealed Letter is an acquired taste. Unfortunately, my taste buds prefer something a little more full-bodied.


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