I'll come straight out and say it, The sealed letter by Emma Donaghue has definitely been the book that I've enjoyed most so far on the longlist since it was announced (I'm not sure about saying longlist overall since two of the books I'd read already Gillespie and I, and There but for the, were also rather good). Good story, tick, interesting characters, tick, readable, tick, and it's also based on a real story which often adds an extra element of interest if it's something that you don't know about.
In some ways it's a bit like an early Sarah Waters book - hugely evocative of Victorian atmosphere and with twists and turns along the way. Set in 1864, it's based on the Codrington Divorce case. This is not something I knew about, but it was a famous divorce whereby Admiral Sir Henry Codrington alleged that his wife Helen had committed adultery, with other men and by being overly involved with her female friend Emily. Emily Faithful is in fact a tireless campaigner for women's rights, so there is a good strong dose of feminism in the novel, who had initially inadvertently and then reluctantly assisted Helen in having an affair with Colonel Anderson. What comes across so well in the novel is the way that Emily is trapped between her friend and desire to make her happy (is there something more to their relationship maybe?) and her morals and desire to uphold the status of women.
I loved all of the period detail such as characters reading Wilkie Collins books and the story was so readable that it had great pace.
I'm a little puzzled as to how this ended up on the longlist this year, it was first published in 2007 and predates "Room" for which Donaghue was shortlisted last year (and which was also shortlisted for the Booker). I think it was previously published in Canada, and then in the wake of the success of Room last year, her other novels have now been brought out in England. It still seems a little strange to include it on this year's list though!
It's certainly very different from Room though - this is much more of a standard historical novel, albeit one which has been well researched and carefully written, whereas Room was something quite different from anything I'd read before.
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