Book Review: The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue is an engaging story about an adulterous wife in the 1850’s who went through a scandalous divorce after she was found out by her husband.

‘Stylist Helen Codrington is unhappily married. Emily ‘Fido’ Faithfull hasn’t seen her once-dear friend for years. Suddenly, after bumping into Helen on the streets of Victorian London, Fido finds herself reluctantly helping Helen to have an affair with a young army officer. The women’s friendship quickly unravels amid courtroom accusations of adultery, counter-accusations of cruelty and attempted rape, and the appearance of a mysterious ‘sealed letter’ that could destroy more than one life . . .’ – The Times

This was at a time when divorce was almost unheard of, and women never won custody of their children. The Sealed Letter is a story that is based on a true account, and is one I havent been able to put down from start to finish.

I have always been interested in Victorian society (my all time favourite book is Pride and Prejudice) and this is why I initially picked up the book. I noted that it was written by the same author who wrote Room. From the moment I started reading, I could not put the book down. I can be quite a fussy reader and its very rare for me to experience this. The writing style is easily accessible – in fact the

simplicity of Donoghue’s writing is striking against the backdrop of an historic story. Despite the shocking nature of the issues written about at the time it happened, the story is every bit as relevant today as it was in 1890.

Donoghue has an amazing capacity for storytelling, and for marrying the gap between the historical and the contemporary. One can tell from the attention she gives to detail in the descriptions of the story that the author has done her research – a lot of it. She is clearly a specialist in the Victorian era and I really felt that from reading this novel I was educating myself, too.  There are a number of subtexts going on including friendship, morality, femininity, sexuality and women in the workplace.

The characterisations were believable but more than that they really came to life. I understood why each character behaved in the way they did, I felt their emotions as raw as if they were in the room with me. Despite the story happening 150 years ago, I could find myself relating to specific parts of each characters personality. Donoghue is one of the most skillful writers of our time.

When I had concluded reading this story, I was left wanting more. I didn’t want the story to end there; I wanted to know more! This book (more so than Room) is the book that placed its author in my all time top three. I instantly went out about bought more of her books (I also highly recommend Slammerkin, the story of a 13 year old Victorian prostitute) and she inspired me to read up further on Victorian culture.

If you are looking for an entertaining and intriguing read that will educate you and leave you wanting more, then The Sealed Letter is definitely the next book on your reading list.