Emma Donoghue - The Sealed Letter (4 stars)

Emma Donoghue - The Sealed Letter

Re-issue of a slow-burning Victorian-set drama by the Booker-shortlisted author

(Picador)

‘No corsets, no crinoline’ is the unladylike lot of one who takes up the cause of women’s rights amidst the bustling, vital Victoriana of this reissued 2008 novel from Room author Emma Donoghue. Emily ‘Fido’ Faithfull has matured into just such a shocking character for the times when she meets her old friend Helen Codrington on the last day of London’s summer in 1864, the latter freshly returned from years in Malta with her Vice-Admiral husband. In ‘the Continental style’, though, Helen wears a much younger officer on her arm.

In forensically revisiting the true story of the Codrington divorce, Donoghue tells a tale which slow-burns with the pace of English reserve but lends sharp insight to each of its players, particularly Fido and her deeply-buried Sapphic desires, and a growing London itself, where certain physicians insist the fumes of the ‘Underground Railway’ have medicinal properties. Although the headline-grabbing timeliness of Donoghue’s most recent, Booker-shortlisted work is absent here, her burgeoning reputation as an author is hopefully enough to earn this earlier work a deserved reappraisal.

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