It seems like I was one of the few people who didn't fall heavily for Donoghue's much loved and talked about book, Room - I thought it was clever in so many ways but despite the content it just failed to connect with me for some reason.
My latest Donoghue read is a completely different matter however - The Sealed Letter had me hooked from the start and I can see why it has been long listed for the 2012 Orange Prize.
The Sealed Letter is set in Victorian England and is based on the true story of divorce proceedings between an upper class couple of the time - Henry and Helen Codrington. Divorce cases were still extremely rare in these times (Donoghue writes in her author's note that in Britain between 1670 and 1852 there were fewer than two divorces a year with this rising to several hundred a year after the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857).
The story is told from the perspectives of the three main characters, Henry and Helen and Helen's close friend, Emily 'Fido' Faithful a young single woman firmly behind the feminist reform cause of the day who runs a successful printing press in London. Fido and Helen come back into contact with one another seemingly by chance when Helen and her family return from Malta where her husband has been stationed for several years with his position in the Navy. Fido quickly discovers that the Helen she thought she knew has developed into a woman in a compromising position - she has a lover whom her husband knows nothing about and she appeals to Fido to support her in what Fido believes to be an attempt to end the illicit affair.
The story covers the legal trial that takes place after Henry Codrington cottons on to what is going on under his nose and petitions for divorce from Helen - drawing Fido in as an unwilling and at times helpless witness. As a legal thriller I found this book to be extremely entertaining but it has so many more levels to it - the unequal relationships that occurred between men and women of the time and the powerless positions women could be placed in if they did not "toe the line" and clearly meet all of societies expectations of them was clearly demonstrated throughout the story. The characters themselves could be frustrating and very unlikeable but that intrigued me - and the fact that the story was based somewhat in fact and meticulous research just added to its authenticity for me - a fantastic read.