Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Book #57 Fingersmith by Sarah Waters


It was late when I finished Ann Patchett's State Of Wonder, but, I was suffering from insomnia and decided to start Fingersmith. I didn't sleep last night. At all. I've always thought that reviewers who claimed a book kept them up all night were at best sycophantic and at worst writing pieces of wild cliches and hyperbole. And then I read Fingersmith.

Right from the start you feel not as reader but as genuine observer. The dialogue makes the voices ring clear and true in your mind. I've always loved nineteenth century literature, and Fingersmith feels like reading a cross between a Dickens and an Austen. All the rogues normally found in the works of either writer are present and correct, drawing room society, damsels in distress, low level ne'er do wells and the charming Gentleman fallen upon hard times who may not be all he seems; but Waters is able by writing in the modern era to turn things up a notch by writing about topics with a frankness unthinkable from her literary forebears.

The plot is just magnificent, a confidence trick within a confidence trick within a...like a set of Russian Dolls. It begins with Sue: raised by scam artists who do what they must to get by, Sue is enlisted by  "Gentleman" to assist him in the ensnaring of a young lady of good fortune by posing as a lady's maid. That alone sets us off on a fascinating adventure of both guile and cruelty, but the turns that await Sue and her mistress Maud are as unexpected for the reader as they are for the characters.

It would be spoiling it to give any further information on the plot than this, I don't even really want to comment on some of the revelations that await for fear of giving some of the enjoyment away.
The story told in part by Sue and in part by Maud is charmingly done in both parts, and in the end you feel for both girls equally.

The world of nineteenth century London is revealed to be a truly sinister and hellish place for women particularly and there is a real sense of the macabre, especially when the tricks begin to pay off for the truly villainous "Gentleman"and his associates.  

I must confess that when Sarah Waters first began to gain notice, I somewhat wrote her off as somebody who was (apparently) attempting to pass off overt erotica as literature for headlines and notoriety. Sex for the sake of sex. The experience of reading Fingersmith ought to teach me once and for all to always ignore the views of The Daily Fail. The sexual elements of this novel are not only essential to both plot and characterisation, but are reflected in a tasteful and legitimately artistic way.

Sometime ago, a friend and I were in Waterstones one night when Sarah Waters made an appearance for an evening Q and A. Having not read any of her work, I was disinterested in her and it. Having just spent the last 24 hours engrossed in her novel and thrilled by every page, I must confess myself completely and utterly gutted at having missed an opportunity of meeting her, but to have met her without having read Fingersmith would be akin to meeting a hero who was yet to save you, you would have no idea just how great they would be one day, and so would not remark upon them at all. Hindsight is a great if bittersweet thing.

A new literary hero. Wonderful. Now, I need sleep. Read This Now: 10/10

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