I'd heard good things about Emma Donoghue but as her historical fiction is usually set in the Victorian period (a period I don't have much interest in) I doubted very much that I would ever read a book by her. But then, on a whim, at a sale, I picked up this one. And boy, am I glad I did as I think I've discovered a new favourite author.
On the surface this book is about a scandalous Victorian divorce case (weren't they all?!) and this one had it all; a decorated Admiral as the petitioner, a cheating wife with not one but two lovers, men under the Admiral's command named as co-respondents, hints of assignations and sex in 'exotic' locations, accusations of attempted rape, a well known early feminist as a witness for the defence, disappearance of said witness, and hints of 'unnatural' acts (lesbianism). The sensationalist press of the time had a field day and the retelling of the story makes for a compelling and page turning read. But the story Ms Donoghue tells goes much deeper than that, and it is as involved and as complex as human nature itself and the strict societal mores of the time.
Donoghue uses the scant historical source materials (court documents, newspaper reports and a handful of personal letters) to good effect and weaves them into a very human and thought provoking tale. There's no right and wrong or winners and losers in this, but lots of shades and shadows. Lies and hypocrisy abound especially during the trial. It certainly made me very grateful that I live in a time and a country of 'no fault' divorce and that our Family Law Court is there ostensibly to look after the welfare of the children involved.
Some reviewers have said they were disappointed by the ending but I loved it. There are two nice twists in the tail which I felt added much to the story and a lot of meaning to the undercurrent stuff. The author had some good points to make and it made me consider the old 'double standard' from an entirely new perspective, even amoung women and feminists. The early feminists had much to learn about what real equality meant, as arguably we still do today.
An enjoyable buddy read with Anna who made it even better by indulging in some pretty wild speculation :-).