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The Sealed Letter Paperback – 2 Feb 2012
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Audio CD, Audiobook, Unabridged
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Very enjoyable (Independent on Sunday)
Briskly written, deftly plotted and nicely ironic (Guardian)
Blissfully readable (The Times)
From the bestselling author of Room comes a delicious tale of secrets, betrayal and forbidden loveSee all Product description
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The story is set in London in 1864 and we follow Helen Codrington (a wife and mother, born and bred abroad, who craves some excitement in her life) and Emily ‘Fido’ Faithfull (a crusader for women’s rights and an unlikely friend for Helen) as they navigate through the fallout of Helen’s affairs in a very public way. It’s really difficult for us to imagine today but divorce was much more scandalous and socially crippling in 1864 and it’s strange that the two people divorcing were not actually allowed to give evidence in court.
The characters in the book were well written and the storyline was easy to follow but my only negative comment would really be that it was a bit slow and boring. I felt like the whole book was dragged out a lot longer than it needed to be and I found myself getting a bit bored with some of the situations and conversations.
I didn’t love this book but I didn’t hate it, I just ended up feeling a bit ‘meh’ about it and it’s not convinced me to read any other of Emma Donoghue’s books.
This isn't a sensational or melodramatic read, it's far more intelligent than that and is based on Donoghue's meticulous archival research of the actual case. The publicity blurb and press reviews are quite misleading, so anyone expecting a frothy romp or something like The Crimson Petal and the White or Fingersmith should definitely think again.
I found the beginning of this book difficult to get into: it feels very mannered with its present tense style and the rather artificial speech rhythms of the characters. That soon wore off, however, and the book settled down into what becomes an utterly engrossing read of lies, self-deception, and legal trickery.
There's a nice kind of moral ambiguity about this tale that I liked: no-one comes off particularly well, and no-one can be said to be the hero or heroine of the book. If you want a book where you can root for the hero and boo the villains, this certainly isn't it.
So after a slightly shaky start this became completely compelling - recommended.
To begin with, this book annoyed me intensely. I found the dialogue stilted and the overall feel of the novel wasn't authentically Victorian to me. The first quarter of the book shows Fido and Helen becoming reacquainted after a number of years and I honestly wanted to give up on the book as I found it so unconvincing. As I never give up on books I persevered and I'm glad I did as the story picked up once Helen was found out and the divorce proceedings began. The title of the book refers to a sealed letter produced in the trial, the contents of which would be crucial to the outcome if revealed.
Overall this is a good read but I had a number of issues with it. The novel attempts to show how biased the divorce courts were against women in the 19th century. Helen stood to lose all access to her two young daughters, devastating for any mother. But, in this case, it was hard to sympathise with Helen. She brought a lot of her problems on herself, she manipulated people and was cold towards her husband. Henry Codrington was not a bad man, in fact he was fairly typical of men of his rank at the time, and he was hurt and embarrassed by the breakdown of his marriage.
This book is one of Donoghue's older novels but was re-released following the success of Room. It is completely different to Room in subject matter and style but eventually builds up to be a good read after a slow and irritating start.