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!
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Hmm, I'm not sure what to think after reading this! I'm reading my way through the Orange longlist but haven't got to this yet. I quite like historical fiction, especially if it's based on fact, so I'm quite looking forward to The Sealed Letter. I think I'm more intrigued than ever now!ReplyDelete
Oooh, definitely sounds like you'll like it then! Honestly, I didn't hate it AT ALL, I just was a little bit meh about it purely because I'm not a historical fiction fan, but because it's Donoghue it was still kind of awesome!Delete
Well now I don't know what to do. I'm sort of meh on historical fiction, though the fact that this is a court case is intriguing. Perhaps I'll add it to the TBR but keep it down near the bottomReplyDelete
Hehe, you do that! I mean, I think it's still worth a read, it just didn't change my life or anything! (ps I recommend Hood MUCH more than this, if you want some Donoghue.)Delete
I WILL READ ALL THE DONOGHUENESSReplyDelete
You know I'm all up in ladies wearing corsets, so historical fiction's kind of my bag. And I LOVE TIPPING THE VELVET (obviously, because all it IS is ladies in corsets).
Some of her books don't quite resonate with me (Landing, kiiind of Slammerkin, but I still liked the latter), but her writing is so good I usually don't care too much. And again, since her stuff is SO different, one probably can't like all of it.
Oh yeah, I think you'll love this. Even when I was writing the review I was all like 'I think Alice will like this. A LOT.' Although there's not that much corsetry because Fido's this awesome feminist. But there is a bit of lesbian action, which I know you love ;).
Also, yes. This is true. I haven't read Landing or Slammerkin! Must... read... more... Donoghue...
Yessssss ladies macking on other ladiiiies!Delete
Slammerkin's 18th c. and Landing is contemporary. I had some quibbles about it, but again, I just enjoy her writing, so the plot's kinda 'meh' beside it.
I thought this one was well done but I wasn't wowed by it like I was with Room and Slammerkin!ReplyDelete
This one is getting such mixed reviews. It's next in my pile, and I'm eager to see where I will fall on the spectrum. I adored Room, but I've yet to explore Donoghue's historical fiction. I am glad to read this one before Slammerkin, which seems to be universally adored. Better luck with your next Donoghue!ReplyDelete
I love historical fiction, but this one fell flat for me. The first half of the story was pretty decent, but it went downhill for me once it got the separation and divorce. Dido's naivety over Helen and then the ending I found really frustrating. A bad sort of frustrating, not like frustration over the selfishness of Jack in Room.ReplyDelete