The Sealed Letter

Emma Donoghue, Author . Harcourt $26 (396p) ISBN 978-0-15-101549-8

In 1864 London, after a separation of seven years, Helen, now the wife of Vice-Admiral Codrington, bumps into her old friend Emily Faithful, now a well-known feminist and independent printer. As Donoghue (Slammerkin ) deliciously unspools the twisted roots of their intimacy, Emily soon finds herself party to Helen's clandestine affair and snared in the sensational divorce proceedings that ensue (and which are based on an actual case from the period). Donoghue's elegantly styled, richly woven tale absorbs the everyday lives of Victorian women (rich, poor, working, home-bound, feminist, adulteress) and men (officer, lawyer, minister, adulterer, even an amateur detective) in a colorful tapestry of spiraling intrigue, innuendo, speculation and mystery. Characters indulge in pleasures at which Victorian novels could only hint, and which Donoghue renders with aplomb. Period details—etiquette, typesetting, dress, medical treatments, public amusements, shipping and jurisprudence—are rendered with a spare exactitude organic to the story. Donoghue's latest has style and scandal to burn. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 06/16/2008
Release date: 09/01/2008
Genre: Fiction
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