Book Review: The Sealed Letter

“It’s quite mysterious to Fido, that electric chain of feeling that can link two women of different ages, backgrounds, temperaments; that throb of sympathetic mutuality, that chiming note outside the range of men’s hearing. Without understanding it, she’s always responded to it as a diviner to the call of water deep underground.” Emma Donoghue, THE SEALED LETTER

THE SEALED LETTER by Emma Donoghue was published in 2008 and is 464 pages. I received the book as a gift from one of my writing critique partners, Jennifer Lyn King, because she knows how much I love historical fiction, how much I loved Donoghue’s ROOM, and because it parallels themes in my new WIP. Needless to say, Jennifer knows me very well because this book kept me up late on subsequent nights and I loved it.

Set in Victorian London, THE SEALED LETTER begins when two old friends, an unhappily married woman named Helen and her spinster friend Emily (whom she “affectionately” refers to as Fido), run in to one another in the street, and return to a deep and seemingly mutual affection they had once abandoned. It soon becomes clear, however, that Helen wishes to take advantage of Fido’s loyal nature, and enlists Fido to help her carry on an affair with an army officer in her husband’s corps.

After a series of careless and fateful meetings, Helen is soon on the defense in a scandalous divorce trial, and Fido is horrified to find herself in the middle of it. As Fido desperately tries to keep up her work at her women’s suffrage periodical, and to free herself of the charms of her old friend, and the sticky web of lies she has woven, Fido becomes more and more entangled.

With its salaciousness and scandal, THE SEALED LETTER, reminds one of a Jane Austen novel without censor. The period details are rich and allow the reader to imagine the setting with ease, and the sharp dialogue and plot twists are truly gasp-worthy. What is also fascinating is the fact that this novel is based on a true story.

Keep your smelling salts handy if you shock easily, but do read this book if you enjoy compelling “gossip fiction” of the highest quality. Fans of Downton Abbey will love THE SEALED LETTER.

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