Review: Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase by Louise Walters

 

Title: Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase

Author: Louise Walters

Published: Hachette March 2014

Status: Read from March 09 to 11, 2014 — I own a copy {Courtesy Hachette/Netgalley}

My Thoughts:

“I find things hidden in books: dried flowers, locks of hair, tickets, labels, receipt, invoices, photographs, postcards, all manner of cards. I find letters, unpublished works by the ordinary, the anguished, the illiterate. Clumsily written or eloquent, they are love letters, everyday letters, secret letters and mundane letters talking about fruit and babies and tennis matches, from people signing themselves as Majorie or Jean….I can’t bring myself to dispose of these snippets and snapshots of lives that once meant (or still do mean) so much.”

Roberta has always been intrigued by the ephemera she discovers trapped between the pages of the books that find their way into the book store where she works so when she discovers a letter in a book once owned by her grandmother, she is thrilled with finding such an unexpected treasure. But the letter, addressed to her grandmother, Dorothea, is puzzling for in it the man Roberta believes was her grandfather, Jan Pietrykowski declares he cannot marry Dorothea a year after she was led to believe he died in combat.

Dual timelines explores Roberta’s present and Dorothea’s hidden past, two stories of love, loss, heartbreak and joy.

I didn’t find Roberta’s story as interesting as her grandmother’s, in part I think because she is so self contained. Roberta is a reserved woman in her thirties who enjoys her position at the Old and New Bookstore but is otherwise lonely and untethered. She struggles to befriend her colleagues and has drifted into an affair with a man she isn’t sure she even likes. The mystery of the letter Roberta discovers in the suitcase given to her by her father gives her something to focus on, but with her beloved father dying and her 109 year old grandmother near insensible in a nursing home, she is not sure where to turn to for answers.

As Dorothea’s past unspools, the secret the letter hints at, kept from her son and granddaughter, is slowly revealed. Dorothea suffered a lonely childhood which she escaped, against her mother’s wishes, by marrying a young farmer, Albert Sinclair, envisioning a happy family with lots of children reared in the wholesome countryside. Sadly their initial happiness waned as it was blighted by repeated miscarriages and a tragic stillbirth until the couple could barely stand to look at each other, overwhelmed by their disappointment. On the eve of World War Two, Albert escaped by enlisting, leaving Dorothea to manage as best she could. To survive she took in laundry, and hosted a pair of ‘land girls’, resigned to a life devoid of love. Then a fighter plane crashes in her back yard bringing Polish Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski to her door, and slowly breathes new life into Dorothea’s barren existence. It takes a little time to warm to Dorothea, who like her granddaughter seems aloof and a little odd, but I found her sympathetic and became intrigued by her story. I would have preferred to spend more time with Dorothea in the past than with Roberta in the present.

The plot encompasses mystery, romance and tragedy in both the contemporary and historical settings but it is driven by character rather than action. The pace is measured, though the alternate chapters help to provide momentum. I thought the writing lovely, evocative and expressive without being overdone.

An impressive debut, Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase is a poignant novel about secrets, love, sacrifice and happiness.

Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase is available to purchase from

  Hachette I boomerang-books_long I Booktopia I Amazon AU I Amazon US

  via Booko

 

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Jade @ Bits & Bobs
    Mar 19, 2014 @ 21:20:17

    I’m always on the lookout for amazing debuts and this certainly sounds like one. I was intrigued when I saw this on your It’s Monday post a couple of weeks and having read the review now I’ve added to my wishlist. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :-)

    Reply

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