I was drawn to The Rossetti Letter by Christi Phillips because it used a plot device that I like to see in novels, that of the dual time periods. I love to read about 2 different stories, in 2 different time periods and how they both interact and are woven together to make 1 complete story. The Rossetti Letter is told primarily from the points of view of two women: modern day Claire Donovan who is working on her thesis and 17th Century Alessandra Rossetti who is the subject of Donovan’s thesis. Through an amazing act of luck Claire is able to go to travel to Venice, Itlay to research her thesis while acting as the chaperone for a teenage girl named Gwen. While in Venice Claire crosses paths with Andrew Kent, who is also researching the same topice as Claire for a book that he is writing….only from a different angle. Claire sees Rossetti and her infamous letter as being at the heart of a Spanish Conspiracy and Andrew Kent thinks that Rossetti was just a pawn in the game. The secondary story follows Alessandra Rossetti and the events that lead up to her writting the letter that is being researched by both Claire and Andrew.
From the start I found it difficult to get into the modern day story. I found it to be slow moving, predictable and didn’t really add to the secondary plot that was going on in the 17th Century. I was, however, throughly invested in Alessandra’s story. It was very clear from reading the book that the author was in love with history for those sections of the book just seemed to come alive. While the modern conterpart often fell flat. The modern story did pick up towards the end, but the change seemed a little false and forced. Almost as if the author realized that she had been neglecting those characters by not really giving them anything to do and so she picked up the pace. As much as I like dual time period settings, I think that this novel would have been better if Phillips had cut out the modern part and just focused on telling a historical novel.
The Rosetti Letter was the Phillip’s first novel I can accept some of the flaws with it. The book was promising and I did enjoy reading it. While Phillips may not become a favorite author of mine I will consider reading her next book when it comes out. I think that this sophmore work is also going to have a dual time period setting and will see the return of the main characters of this novel. One can only hope that Phillip’s storytelling will improve with this future work.
In Short: A predictable, yet enjoyable story about a 400 year old mystery and the contemporary historians who want to know the truth. Not the best written but the author’s love of history really shines through when she is writting the scenes set in the 17th century. I think this novel would have been more enjoyable if the modern scenes had been cut out, but they weren’t horrible.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Next Up: The Splendor of Silence by Indu Sundaresan