Forgive me, Dorothea, for I cannot forgive you. What you do, to this child, to this child’s mother, it is wrong…
Roberta likes to collect the letters and postcards she finds in second-hand books. When her father gives her some of her grandmother’s belongings, she finds a baffling letter from the grandfather she never knew – dated after he supposedly died in the war.
Dorothy is unhappily married to Albert, who is away at war. When an aeroplane crashes in the field behind her house she meets Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, and as their bond deepens she dares to hope she might find happiness. But fate has other plans for them both, and soon she is hiding a secret so momentous that its shockwaves will touch her granddaughter many years later…
In Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase we firstly meet Roberta, an intriguing young lady who works at an independent bookshop, The Old and New. One of her favourite parts of the job is scouring through the old books and finding hidden treasures such as letters, postcards and photographs. She loves to keep what she finds and imagine the lives of the original owners of these items. However, her penchant for finding hidden things becomes an important part of her life when she is given a collection of books in an old suitcase, belonging to her Grandmother. In one of the books she discovers a letter which throws everything that she knows about her family into disarray… Meanwhile Roberta’s Grandmother, Dorothy, is coming up to her 110’th Birthday and is now residing in a care home. Suffering from a form of dementia, Roberta knows she can’t ask Dorothy about the letter that she’s found and the implications of it, not wanting to confuse or upset her.
The story is set over two periods of time. Firstly there’s present day Roberta, but we also get to visit Dorothy when she was younger and living on a farm during the War. Dorothy’s Husband has disappeared and she ends up taking in two land girls, Aggie and Nina to ensure she can still stay in her farm cottage. Whilst surviving those difficult wartime days and caring for the girls a plane fatally crashes into the field surrounding Dorothy’s home which sets in motion a whole unexpected chain of events, involving the dead pilot’s officer, a Polish gentleman named Jan Pietrykowski. And so unfolds a tale of heartbreak, missed chances and undiscovered secrets.
First things first, I had to read this story because it’s SET IN A BOOKSHOP. The Old and New is my dream place, I only wish such a place really existed because I would find myself permanently in there, browsing the shelves… I was grabbed by the synopsis and the idea of finding these hidden, personal treasures such as letters & photographs that tell a story inside old books. I then loved how Roberta’s hobby of collecting these letters ended up transforming her own life when she found a letter to her Grandmother which made her question everything that she knew.
Out of the two time frames I think I enjoyed reading Dorothy’s story, set during wartime the most. It was well-researched and beautifully written. I was completely absorbed with how Dorothy fell in love with Jan and I so wanted them to be together. I found the descriptions of wartime life to be realistic and had no trouble envisaging what was happening at this time and how difficult it would have been for those going through it.
The story took on so many twists and turns that I didn’t foresee what was going to happen until it actually did, so it was in no way predictable and I found the storyline completely absorbing.
I also really liked the way that snippets of the letters and cards that Roberta finds are included at the start of each chapter. I think it’s a nice touch when books include bits like this and it adds an extra something to the story. You almost feel more involved for reading these extra pieces.
I also have to mention the cover of Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase. THE SPINES OF OLD BOOKS? It’s beautifully designed and I would want to read this purely on the cover alone. It’s just my kind of book as far as the cover & design are concerned. Perfect.
This is one corker of a debut novel from Louise Walters. It’s touching, warm and intriguing and you will be desperate to find out exactly what these secrets are and if Roberta will ever uncover them. Beautifully written, easy to read and a completely absorbing story. I predict big things for Louise Walters. Watch this space!
Louise Walter’s debut novel Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase was published in 2014 by Hodder and Stoughton. It will also be published in the USA in 2015 by Amy Einhorn Books. Louise lives in Northamptonshire.