It seems every book I read lately shifts back and forth in time and place. This one is no different.
The main storyline is about Sharon, a wife and mother of twin girls who is also a successful romance novelist. Her comfortable life is shattered when first her husband leaves her for a graduate student and then she is diagnosed with breast cancer.
While she is recovering from chemotherapy, she is offered a job writing a serial fiction piece for a local newspaper. She decides to write about the young mistress of Charles Dickens. So most of the story alternates between present day Toronto where Sharon struggles with her failing marriage and her serious illness and Victorian England where we learn about Dickens from the perspective of his much younger lover. However, there are also other interludes - a few chapters which look at the perspective of Dickens' wife, two longer pieces that are adaptations of the Persian The Thousand and One Nights, and some which I found particularly interesting and ultimately surprising from the perspective of Shay, a Canadian graduate student living in London and studying Dickens' wife. The epilogue is also from the perspective of the graduate student with whom Sharon's husband has his affair.
I found it really interesting how I had to keep changing mindsets to follow the different storylines. At first I shied away from the book because I didn't like the sound of the historical sections, but I ended up finding them quite compelling. However, the present day chapters were the most touching to me.
In all I quite enjoyed this book.