Mrs. Placidia Hockaday is barely a teenager when she comes to live with her new husband, Major Gryffith Hockaday, on his farm in rural South Carolina. They spend two days and two nights together until the Major receives the news that he must immediately return to his regiment. The American Civil war has already been raging for around two years when the Major leaves his inexperienced young bride in charge of his 300 acre farm, his young son, and the few slaves and workers still attached to the farm. Two years later he returns. The gossip mongers are anxious to share some news with him; during his absence his young wife conceived and bore a child. Yet there is no evidence of a baby and she is unwilling to share any information with her husband or the authorities.
This novel is told through a series of letters, journal entries, and legal documents and the narrative that emerges is a harrowing tale of abuse, deprivation, loss and even some heroics. The truth is unveiled to the reader slowly until the full story is exposed – with its many tragedies and a few triumphs. This book would never be classified as “a mystery”, yet there is a profound mystery at its core that must be unravelled by the reader.
This novel highlights the strength of one woman, forced to overcome an almost impossible situation. It also broached the topic of future generations and how they are affected by the circumstances of a war. I think an interesting thing about this novel for me was how I actually changed my mind about certain characters as the novel progressed.
The epistolary novel was common until the beginning of the 20th century but there has been a resurgence in its popularity. Some novels that come to mind –
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer (2008)
Letters From Skye by Jesssica Brockmole (2013)
His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet (2015)
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers Algonquin Books (2017)