THE SEALED LETTER - by Emma Donoghue

The Sealed Letter - by Emma Donoghue

Year Published: 2008 - by HarperCollins Canada.
Genres: Historical fiction/LGBT
Pages: 397.
Source: Library.

Miss Emily "Fido" Faithfull is a "woman of business" and a spinster pioneer in the British women's movement, independent of mind but naively trusting of heart. Distracted from her cause by the sudden return of her once-dear friend, the unhappily wed Helen Codrington, Fido is swept up in the intimate details of Helen's failing marriage and obsessive affair with a young army officer. What begins as a loyal effort to help a friend explodes into a courtroom drama that rivals the Clinton affair --complete with stained clothing, accusations of adultery, counterclaims of rape, and a mysterious letter that could destroy more than one life. Based on a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864, "The Sealed Letter" is a riveting, provocative drama of friends, lovers, and divorce, Victorian style.

Having read Donoghue's Room, I was both overjoyed and hesitant to read another of her works. Overjoyed because I loved Room so much, and hesitant because historical fiction isn't really my kind of book.
But I fell in love. And I will never doubt Donoghue again.

Brilliantly witty dialogue, sparkling humour, perfect pacing, constant plot twists, and incredibly real and dynamic characters make up the excellence that is The Sealed Letter.  
I did not like any of the characters, but that didn't bother me in the slightest. They were all fully rounded, deeply flawed and unpredictable humans that amazed me with their realness and personality. They were perfectly developed.

The writing was crisp, fresh, rich and powerful. It was written in second person; in alternating points of view between the three main characters: Helen, the unfaithful, naive, and manipulative wife; Fido, Helen's faithful friend who is trying to deal with her own romantic feelings in a world that will not yet accept them for what they are; and Helen's husband Harry, a man who sways between guilt and fury and fear at the news that shakes his world.    
I admit that the second point of view did worry me a bit at first; since it's not a point of view I usually enjoy.
But wow. Donoghue did it perfectly.

The humour was an absolute delight. It was sprinkled delicately throughout the novel; every time coming across natural and eccentric, and it just flowed so perfectly from the characters' themselves.
It was never forced.  

I also loved the theme. The book captured the feminist beginnings and struggles of the era superbly. 

One thing I have to mention because it was just AMAZING, is the beautiful showcase of back story that Donoghue so carefully and naturally revealed throughout the story. It was with true skill that she made the characters' pasts and backstorys float to the surface in the appropriate moments, and every time she managed to avoid info dumps. Brilliant.

That ending. What can I say?! Just read it.  It was, like the rest of the story, a gorgeous plot twist that I never saw coming but one that I kicked myself over because I should have ;)  It was the perfect ending; one that literally gave me goosebumps. I actually walked round the house all jittery and with my heart racing because I just couldn't believe the excellence Donoghue had ravished on my soul.

Yes, it is a hard book to read. You have to concentrate, and it's definitely not a light, relaxing tale. 
And while it's incredibly gripping and unputdownable, I only found myself hooked after the first chapter. Which is perfectly fine, except that it goes to show that it might take some time getting into.
But it's worth it. I cannot say that enough.

The Sealed Letter is a work of art by a genius who continues to explore and reveal the original, the magical, and the otherwise mediocre. Donoghue is an amazing writer, and I plan to read many more of her books in the future :)   

I give The Sealed Letter:


  1. I've only read one Emma Donohughe book but I definitely want to read more! This looks amazing!

    1. It is amazing, and I'm sure you'll love it too! Hope you get to read it :)

  2. OOooo this sounds right up my alley. I love Emma Donoghue, feminist-y stuff, humor, and plot twists. I'll put The Sealed Letter on my TBR! I've also heard good things about The Wonder by Donoghue. Great review :)

    1. Awesome! I hope you get to read it soon then! Yeah I love those aspects of her writing too, she's brilliant :) Ooooh I haven't heard of that one; thanks for telling me, I'll look out for it.
      Hope you get to read The Sealed Letter sometime soon :)

  3. I'm so excited to read this review! I read Room and The Wonder this year and really fell in love with Donoghue's writing. I recently picked up Frog Music and Landing at a local bookfair and now after reading your excellent review, I'll be on the lookout for The Sealed Letter too!

    1. Thank you! Oooh yes, Room is amazing, but I haven't read The Wonder or any others of her books yet. So glad you enjoyed them!
      I hope you get to read The Sealed Letter soon and enjoy it, it's excellent.
      Thanks for such a lovely comment, and nice to meet you!

  4. I have heard so many good things about her books, it's high time I went on to actually read one. It's especially special we there is a genre you don't usually appreciate too much, and then you end up enjoying it so much simply because the author knows how to handle it ;)

    1. Yes you must! She's a brilliant author, and her books are so, so good :)
      Oh yes EXACTLY!! I was so happy to have enjoyed it, especially because it was out of my comfort zone, so to speak :)
      Hope you get to read at least one of Donoghue's novels VERY soon! <3