Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase is a book with great ambitions, and so nearly pulled them off. It is a book set in two periods; the early part of World War Two and a contemporary environment. The two people are linked by a letter discovered by a bookseller, Roberta, that was written to her grandmother Dorothy. The idea is that Roberta finds letters and postcards in the books sold in her friend Phillip’s shop, so is not too thrown when she finds this significant letter in a suitcase that originally belonged to Dorothy. Apart from breaking up the text in quite an interesting way, I’m not sure what these unanchored letters and notes add to the book.
Much of the narrative surrounds a love affair between Dorothy and Jan, a Polish pilot, a lost baby, a broken marriage and the loneliness of Roberta as she copes with 21st century life. The Home Front atmosphere is well evoked, the feelings of a bereft mother and a disappointing life well executed. There are some excellent characterisations and much of the book is very readable.
I suppose that it is let down by the coincidences and easy let outs which make for a overall happy ending. There is a bit of falling in love at first sight which takes a little trouble to believe, and one element of chick lit which is exasperating in an otherwise satisfying novel. There is also an episode of violence which I think could have been avoided as not really necessary to the story and seems frankly included for the shock factor. The book did not not need it. I felt that the ending for one of the heroines was too pat, and I wondered if I had wandered into another book by mistake.
Overall, I would recommend this book, as it is well written and there are several interesting themes. There are some jarring points, but it is a good read and the material is well handled. It is a little like Nicholson’s Motherland, another book dominated by the emotions and events of War, but dealing with the long term effects on families. It is a first novel, and I would be very interested to read Louise Walters’ next novel sooner rather than later.
A different book that I received for review is Anyush by Martine Madden. This is a book set in 1915 as the Armenian people suffered starvation and military oppression. It centres on the story of Anyush Charcoudian, a young woman who sees families around her disappear and worse. She is depicted a physically brave in the face of soldiers in the first instance, then emotionally brave in her affair with a Turkish officer, Orfalea.
The focus of the book switches from the small village dominated by war, to the progress of the officers, to the activities of a missionary doctor.
Stylistically I was not so keen on the retorical questions “Did he regret what happened?” and some of the similes “Her face was white as flour”. The use of letters and thus the first person from the overall third person narration was a little disorientating. Some of the names and places were a little confusing, but this is at least partly my lack of knowledge of the period and events. There is a strong narrative arc with satisfying subplots, so as a novel it works well.
I am not convinced that this book ends with hope, but it is an atmospheric read which is strong on plot and characterisation. Not a cheerful or happy novel, but a powerful and well researched book.