Book review: Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase

mrs sinclair's suitcase by louise walters 17-2-14Cleo at Cleopatra Loves Books recommended this book to me and I am glad she did. This is a gentle mystery of a love affair during war and its consequences for the following generations.

We follow the stories of two women: Dorothy Sinclair in 1940, and today Roberta who works at The Old and New Bookshop. Roberta is particularly fond of the secondhand stock, treasuring the notes and letters she finds hidden within their pages, wondering about the stories of the writer and the addressee. Each chapter starts with an excerpt from such a note.

The letter which starts Chapter One is dated 1941 and addressed to “My dear Dorothea” from Jan Pietrykowski in which he writes he “cannot forgive” her for “what you do, to this child, to this child’s mother, it is wrong.” The letter makes no sense to Roberta as it was written by her grandfather to her grandmother, and dated 1941 when Jan died in 1940. This is the puzzle which Roberta must unravel. What woman does Jan refer to, and what child?

Dorothy’s story starts with a plane crash. She lives on the edge of an airfield deep in the quiet Lincolnshire countryside, alone in her cottage [her husband is away at war] which she shares with two land girls. The plane crash brings the Polish pilot to her door. Nervous, Dorothy serves afternoon tea. She “watched Jan take a bite from a sandwich. His teeth were small, even and white. She noticed the way his fingers curved lightly around the sandwich. He was an elegant man… She watched him eat and he seemed unabashed, eating under her scrutiny. She, for her part, always ate guardedly. She hated the way eating contorted her face, and it made her feel exposed.” From their first meeting, he unsettles her. She is so buttoned-up; he is open, curious and confident.

There is a lot of sensuality in this tale. Despite herself, Dorothy wonders about the pilot. She does not miss her husband. When Jan visits the cottage again, she notices his “brown, lean, strong forearms and realizes how she feels… His arms were poetry.” But there is grief too, as this is wartime and what happened in the 1940s knocks on down the decades to affect Roberta, her father and her grandmother Babunia.
‘Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase’ by Louise Walters [pub. Hodder & Stoughton]

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