A third novel from British poet and editor Dawson (the YA How Do I Look, 1991, etc.), shortlisted for the 2000 Whitbread and Orange Prizes and already a bestseller in the UK (30,000 copies thus far), works history and fiction seamlessly together in a complicated story of passion and murder that caused a sensation in England in 1922.
Using letter fragments, newspaper accounts, and a good bit of poetic license, a striking picture of Edith Thompson, successfully employed young wife of her murdered husband Percy and lover of the still younger murderer Freddy, emerges. Starting from her prison cell in the days soon after Percy was stabbed to death on the street while walking home with her from the theater, Edie exhibits a passion for her lover that vies with her sense of horror at the crime. Initially, she believes that she’ll be set free, since she didn't actually do the deed, and chastises Freddy as if the murder were an impulsive act. But when her previous letters to him surface, containing her discussion of how the abusive drunkard Percy might be removed from the scene, her disposition darkens. Shunned by her family and vilified in the press as the letters’ details are made public, Edie still remains true to herself, adapting to the prison routine, winning over one of her warders, and even sparring with the chaplain over matters of faith and justice. Nonetheless, she’s profoundly uneasy, dogged by dreams of Percy and a daughter she might have had, to the point that she requires sedation. Even though it swiftly becomes clear when her trial begins that both she and Freddy face execution, Edie clings to the memories and the love she shared with Freddy as the fulfillment that her marriage and the rest of her life denied her.
A riveting story, not so much because of its tragic dimensions, but because of the remarkable degree to which Edie rises from the page to tell her tortured tale. Can the movie version, to be released here this year, compare?