The Sealed Letter

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 03 June, 2012, 12:00am


The Sealed Letter
by Emma Donoghue (read by Charlotte Strevens)
MacMillan (audiobook)

One by-product of literary success is that it spreads over an author's earlier work. Emma Donoghue hit the best-seller lists with 2010's Room, a chilling re-imagining of the Josef Fritzl case. First published in 2008, The Sealed Letter is also based on a real-life event, but that is where the similarities end. This historical novel is inspired by a Victorian scandal: the divorce of Helen Codrington from her ageing husband, a vice-admiral in the British navy. Trapped in a marriage devoid of love is par for the course in TV adaptations of most Victorian marriages. But Helen doesn't take it lying down. Introduced to a dashing soldier, she is soon having an affair. This is something she does take lying down. When the vice-admiral finally learns he has been wronged, he begins divorce proceedings - and so one of Victorian England's great public scandals ensues. The court case includes adultery, feminism, grievously ill children, money, and even a little lesbianism. Charlotte Strevens does an admirable, if breathy job of rendering Donoghue's prose. Her cut-glass tones are perfect for the dialogue, but ironic enough to tease out the author's critique.