Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Book: Fingersmith

I'm now in the Fingersmith club: oh the twists and turns! The reveals that continue on and on -- how many more layers can there be? Like a Victorian woman's dress, this book has so many mysterious layers and each one reveals more than you'd expect.

It starts out in Victorian London, in a house of thieves. Young Susan, raised in these questionable surroundings, has been pampered (relatively speaking) since birth. Her mother, a murderess, was hanged when she was a wee baby, and her foster mother, Mrs. Sucksby (I can't get over that name) raised her like she was her own. "Someday, Susan is going to make our fortune," she says all the time.

And one day, the time comes for Susan to head out into the world and make that fortune. A mysterious grifter named Gentleman comes to the house with a crazy plot. He wants to marry a sheltered heiress and get his hands on her money, but he needs Susan's help to convince the heiress. Once they get the money, they'll put the heiress in a madhouse and escape to live the life of luxury. Although pricked by her conscience ("Isn't it, well, rather a bad thing we mean to do?"), Susan decides to go along with the plan and soon heads out to the country to serve as a lady's maid for the heiress.

The heiress, Maud, is kept virtual prisoner in her uncle's house. Forced to read to him and help him in his library work, Maud knows nothing of the outside world. She welcomes Susan with open arms and the two become quite close, confidantes, even. And then Gentleman arrives, and the plot to snare Maud must begin in earnest. Only, Susan feels quite tender towards her mistress, and hesitates to send her to her doom. Still, Gentleman is forceful and convincing and so the plot goes forward. Not without a hitch or two, and a night of passion which no one can forget.

However, once they are on the path to freedom, everything shifts and suddenly the world as we know it (for Susan and for the reader) is turned on its side, and we start to question everything we thought we knew...

Unfortunately, that's all I can write about the plot without giving it all away. What I loved about this book is that you are pretty sure there is a big twist -- everyone says there is, right? What I didn't realize was that there was not just one twist, but several, and I couldn't see any of them coming (except the first one, which I had a vague idea about but still couldn't quite figure out until it happened).

I've read a couple of Waters books (Affinity and Tipping the Velvet) and so I knew I would enjoy this book, and oh, I did. As usual, she writes with incredible style and balances that line between being "literary" and very readable. Her characters are well-drawn and compelling, and quite complex and conflicted. You are never quite sure if someone is supposed to be "good" or not -- and I really appreciate that as it feels more true to life. The setting, of dark-and-dirty London and secluded country house, was so interesting.

I especially liked the parts about the thieves house -- how they ran their small-time crime operation, how they considered themselves "honest" thieves.

The women in the book, Maud and Susan (and to some degree, Mrs. Sucksby), were full and vibrant. Complicated and troubling, but also so sweet (well, not Mrs. Sucksby). As usual, Waters writes about lesbian themes with such natural grace that nothing feels jarring -- it is presented, as it happens in real life -- as something that happens naturally and with a feeling of wonder, a gift. A big deal, but really, not such a big deal. I looked her website and saw this fantastic quote:

"... lesbian passions and issues are there in my books in the same way that they are there in my life: they are both vitally important to me, and completely incidental."

I love that, and that's exactly how it feels in her books. The key relationship between two women is both vitally important in that the plot hinges on this affection, and yet, it's like any other relationship and nothing extraordinary at all.

It's how I feel in my own life: my relationship with Terri is of vital importance, and yet, I don't feel compelled to make a big deal out of it. She's the person I love, and that's how it is. No big deal, no fanfare, no need to identify any particular way. She's my sweetie and it's no big deal, and yet it's a very big deal, because hello? She's awesome! :)

Anyway. If you haven't read any Sarah Waters yet, get thee to the library and pick up one. If you like a shorter book, read Affinity. If you like a big fat book to really get into, choose Tipping the Velvet or Fingersmith. I can't say which of these three are my favorite, but I did really, really enjoy Fingersmith.

Now I'm reading a friend's unpublished book (the second in her series) and I'm going to start reading
Anna Karenina again. I think I will follow the example of some other book bloggers and write about Anna along the way, since I think it will take me a few weeks to finish, and will be much more than I can put into one post.

Also, small note: I put up a 'followers' link on my sidebar for convenience for folks. I might take it down as I find it strangely painful to see readers come and go. I guess we are all 7th graders at heart and want people to like us, don't we? Maybe I'll leave it up and use it as a good way to remind myself not to worry about whether people like me (or my blog) or not. Yes, that's what I'll do. However, feel free to 'follow' me! :)

13 comments:

Nymeth said...

Wheeee! Welcome to the club :D I loved how natural the relationship felt as well. Sarah Waters does that SO WELL. I haven't read Tipping the Velvet yet, but the other day I read a quote from it at the end of a post by Malinda Lo about this very topic that made me want to hug my computer screen. I need to read that book SOON.

Aarti said...

Wow, you did really well on describing the plot without giving it away! And a great review- good work! I don't know why I liked Affinity more. I don't even know if I *did* like it more or if I just liked it *differently*.

Daphne said...

Ana: You must read Tipping the Velvet -- you'll love it.

Aarti: thanks! I loved Affinity when I read it, but it's a very different book than Fingersmith or Velvet. I think it's my least favorite of the three, actually. Although I loved the Spiritualism angle.

Barefoot_Mommy said...

Man... I really want to read this! I wonder if my library has it....

Daphne said...

Barefoot: I hope so! It's really worth reading.

Tammie said...

im with barefoot, i really want to read this now. the books in my to be read stack just arent doing it for me.

i had one follower "leave" me, and although it was someone who never commented once, i sort of had this feeling like "what, im not good enough for you? what did i do to make you leave?" then i realized that was silly and got over it....but there still is that momentary feeling of failure when someone goes.

Kate said...

I think I'm the only person in the world who didn't love this book. Seriously. I can't figure it out. I'll have to go look into why I didn't like it, but I seem to remember thinking that the plot was sort of contrived...it didn't surprise me at all. That said, I'm still eagerly awaiting Waters' newest book from the library.

Yeah, followers. I have a few. And I tend to not bother to "follow" blogs I read a lot - like yours - since I don't need the reminder to read you! It does make me happy when I pick up followers, though. Yeah, very 7th grade.

Daphne said...

Tammie: I hope you like it! The follower thing is weird. I only did it to make it easy for people. I try not to pay any attention to it but it's hard!

Kate: I'd be curious to know why you didn't enjoy it...I don't 'follow' blogs either, I just have them up on my Google home page so I don't know if I show up as a 'follower' or not... oh well! It doesn't matter anyway.

teabird said...

Fingersmith and Velvet have been on my must-read-someday lists -- now to start the must-read-someday-soon list and add these two! I love this review, and I love the comment about a relationship being just a relationship. (As if any relationship is "just"!)Sweeties are, and I'm just happy when people have sweeties of their own!

Daphne said...

Teabird: soon you will have lots of time for fun reading! That's one good thing, right? Thanks for the nice comment. Sweeties are pretty great, and my sweetie is the best.

Annie said...

Hello, came to visit from Maria's blog. So you know conversational Finnish. That's rare. May I ask how? :-) (olen itse Suomesta)

Daphne said...

Hi Annie! I was an exchange student in Oulu, Finland, in 1992. Minun Suomi ei ole kovin hyvä enää... but it sure is fun to try to figure it out! I suppose I should have said I *used* to be conversational in Finnish. It takes me awhile to remember it since I don't ever get to practice...

Daphne said...

Hi Annie! I was an exchange student in Oulu, Finland, in 1992. Minun Suomi ei ole kovin hyvä enää... but it sure is fun to try to figure it out! I suppose I should have said I *used* to be conversational in Finnish. It takes me awhile to remember it since I don't ever get to practice...