The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Published by Picador in 2012
My copy: Library
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 . . .
To begin with, I was intrigued by this novel and was sucked in straight away. We start with old friends Helen and Fido bumping into each other in the middle of a crowded Farringdon Street, and we are immediately drawn into their friendship and wonder what has kept them apart for so long. I loved the setting of London in the 1850s, which made it sound about as overcrowded as grungy as it is now!
I was also desperate to find out more about the two women, who are so very different – Fido is fiercely independent and is standing up for women’s rights, while Helen is a kept – and very bored – woman. Her husband is as dull as ditchwater, and she is desperate for a spark of excitement in her life, which she gets by carrying on an affair, into which Fido becomes embroiled.
But although I enjoyed this book at the start, I have to admit that my interest did wane a lot as the novel progressed. I didn’t take to any of the characters – Helen was a horrible spoiled brat and Fido was just a bit pathetic – and I found myself getting bored of the story in general. I didn’t care what happened in Helen’s marriage as she was so unlikeable, and I found it almost impossible to feel any sympathy for her situation, despite the prejudices she faced simply for being a woman. And I have to admit I found myself skimming towards the end just to get it over with.
I think there was a really interesting story in here about women’s rights and the challenges they faced at this time, and I was interested to read that a lot of the characters were based on real characters of the time. But while I loved the historical setting of the novel, I just found the book boring overall, which surprised me as I thought it would be more engrossing. I recently read The Wonder by the same author and thought it was amazing, so I was really disappointed with this one.
My rating: 5 out of 10