This is a magnificent study of the murder in London in 1922 which led to the executions of Edith Thompson and her lover Frederick Bywaters. The book is exceptional for the unforgettable portrait it draws of Edith.
Edith and Frederick were hanged in January 1923, she aged 29 and he 20, after both were found guilty of the murder of her husband Percy. The police found more than 60 letters she had written to Freddy during their affair. The letters were, says author Laura Thompson, “ ... remarkable letters, of the most intense and beautiful and individual kind”. However, the prosecution, the Judge and jury also found sufficient evidence in them to convict her as a co-murderer.
Author Thompson’s portrait of Edith must rank as one of the greatest of an ‘ordinary’ person ever written in non-fiction. Drawing on the letters written by Edith (“a woman dreaming of a man to unleash her soul”), on evidence given at the trial and comments by her family and friends, Thompson captures a woman of her time and class in all her complexity. In Thompson’s eyes, it is true to say that Edith was both ordinary and extraordinary, innocent and guilty, rebellious and conventional, faithful and traitorous, intelligent and foolish. She rises from the pages drawn in rich colours, fully human, as if she was someone you’d known for years.
The result for the reader is a feeling of immense empathy with Edith and sadness at her treatment by the legal system.
Thompson’s analysis of the trial is penetrating, acutely identifying the key developments and less than complimentary of the Judge and nearly all the counsel involved. And yet only Edith can be blamed for her disastrous decision to take the stand.
The author’s writing is sublime: I highlighted paragraph after paragraph for the beauty of the language. Laura Thompson applies a fierce intelligence to the events and the characters involved. Her piercing insights and the power of her prose sweep the reader along to embrace her conclusions about the case.
Her analysis and interpretation of Edith’s letters become a meditation on the nature of erotic love, on womanhood and the power of the feminine mystique. She muses on the question of what women should do with their femaleness. “Enjoy it? Use it? Ignore it? Make a weapon of it? ...”
This is a haunting, powerful work, not just of true crime but of literature more generally. You will not forget Edith Thompson.
- Audible Audiobook
- Listening Length: 15 hours and 47 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Whole Story Audiobooks
- Audible.com.au Release Date: 6 June 2019
- Whispersync for Voice: Ready
- Language: English, English
- ASIN: B07SKB9S2B
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 18,419 in Audible (See Top 100 in Audible)