Friday 13 April 2012
Devouring Books: The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue
Here's the thing. I kind of hate historical fiction. And when I say kind of hate, I don't really mean hate, but just that I wouldn't necessarily read it, like, ever, unless I had some kind of super awesome recommendation for it. I think I read about one historical fiction book last year (Tipping the Velvet) which I didn't hate, but at the same time wasn't in love with. And such was the case with this.
This is what I would say about The Sealed Letter- if you like historical fiction, then I think this is probably the top notch example of it- as always, I'm enamoured by Donoghue's writing, and I think she can really tell a great story! I think it was Alice who said to me that she really likes that Donoghue just basically writes about whatever the hell she feels like, and I really have to agree- so far I've had a tale of grief, one of the craziness that comes from starting university, one about being born to a captive mother, and now this, about an actual real life scandalous court case from the 1860s. Way diverse, and also, I think, way interesting.
But. That historical fiction thing. One of the things that bothers me is that the characters actually were real people, and yet they're being presented in a fictional way, except with real life facts from the court cases and whatnot. It's sort of... Well, in the end I was left kind of confused, even though I really didn't need to be because I could have taken the whole thing as fiction. And I thought it was fictional, until I read the bit at the end which was, to be fair, really well researched and made it fairly clear which bits were fact and which were fiction, and that made things a bit confusing in my brain. But that could maybe just have been my brain!
I'm trying really hard to make this not be a rant about historical fiction, but I fear that it kind of has been already! Let me say this about The Sealed Letter then- the characters are very well drawn (there are essentially only three main characters, so a lot of attention is afforded to each of them), I really really liked the early feminism references and things, and, let's face it, court cases are always exciting. I also really disliked the irritating prudishness of Fido, the main character, and I essentially wanted to tell her to grow the hell up and stop being pathetic. And herein lies my problem with historical fiction! (Although- may I add that other facts about her come to light in the awesome twist that I totally guessed, and these facts made me think that maybe she shouldn't have been so prudish about sex things...)
Basically- because this is written by Emma Donoghue it's good, but any lesser writer would have probably fucked it up and I would have been utterly annoyed by it. As it is, I don't feel like I wasted my time with it at all (if nothing else, the end is worth reading on for!) but I'm just less excited by it than I was by all the other Donoghue books I've read. So, yeah, ignore all the things I've said and just read it, basically!