Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase
By Louise Walters
Read by Anna Bentinck and Karen Cass
Category: Historical Fiction | Literary Fiction
Audiobook Download | 592 Minutes
CDs| 600 Minutes
Published by Penguin Audio
Aug 04, 2015
Hardcover and E-Book 288 Pages
Audiofiles provided by publisher for review. No Remuneration was exchanged and all opinion presented herein is my own except as noted.
About Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase
A heartbreaking and deeply compelling debut, Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase is a compulsive page-turner about thwarted love, dashed hopes, and family secrets—book-club fiction at its best.
Roberta, a lonely thirty-four-year-old bibliophile, works at The Old and New Bookshop in England. When she finds a letter inside her centenarian grandmother’s battered old suitcase that hints at a dark secret, her understanding of her family’s history is completely upturned. Running alongside Roberta’s narrative is that of her grandmother, Dorothy, as a forty-year-old childless woman desperate for motherhood during the early years of World War II. After a chance encounter with a Polish war pilot, Dorothy believes she’s finally found happiness, but must instead make an unthinkable decision whose consequences forever change the framework of her family.
The parallel stories of Roberta and Dorothy unravel over the course of eighty years as they both make their own ways through secrets, lies, sacrifices, and love. Utterly absorbing, Mrs. Sinclair’s Suitcase is a spellbinding tale of two worlds, one shattered by secrets and the other by the truth. http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/316215/mrs-sinclairs-suitcase-by-louise-walters/
It’s pretty sad: I listened carefully to this as I mowed the lawn and put Spackle on the porch columns, but do not believe I recognized there were two people doing separate voices; I thought there was one talented reader who merely softened her voice to that of a more demure person for the Dorothy character. So that either means I am a crappy listener or the readers were just that good. Let’s go with the latter, shall we?
But, I really didn’t feel much about the story one way or another.
I felt like this story could go on and on with the war having just begun, things hadn’t become particularly awful food wise yet in England; maybe it never did in the country? But it all coalesces in one particular day. Roberta’s life changes with the discovery of one particular letter.
I felt both of the main female characters, Dorothy and Roberta strangely dispassionate, almost pathologically dissociative, until they find their princes, the man who brings them to life. Ugh. There are only bad men or good men in this story. One of the bad sort is a philanderer and the other is a rapist, although both seem to start off with something to offer. The good men are stalwart and noble, tortured by their honesty.
The women of the war period are either the demure and motherly Dorothy, idiotic farm workers or bitchy, yet motherly types. The women of the more contemporary period are more morally ambiguous.
Roberta’s life changes with the discovery of one particular letter. As Roberta moves vicariously through the mysteries of other people’s lives from their discarded letters, she becomes personally affected by one. But, she spends more time wondering, than acting by just asking her father or her grandmother what the letter was about. It unravels the mystery and secretive lie that has created the family unit Roberta has known. And, one letter, is just that: one thing. Perhaps a mistake of pride?
Somehow, Roberta’s dissociativity is a function of her secretive family and her abandonment by her mother. But meeting up with her mother helps her in a way I do not understand at all. And, there’s even a dreamy sequence where Roberta is ill.
While Dorothy/Dorothea’s life holds together and coalesces, the many parts of Roberta’s seem to be like seats in different compartments on the train of her life: they’re all going to the same place but don’t have much to do with each other. I did like the fond way Roberta’s Polish grandfather is portrayed by the narrator — the Polish accent doesn’t make him a joke or a parody of the brave and noble soldier. I also liked how this character struggles with the morality of killing in wartime.
While I found this story flawed it is a promising debut with all the hallmarks of a PBS “programme,” and I look forward to seeing future work by the author.
Penguin Random House: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/316215/mrs-sinclairs-suitcase-by-louise-walters/
Author Blog: http://louisewalterswriter.blogspot.com/
Author on FB: https://www.facebook.com/LouiseWaltersWriter