“ Author: Sarah Waters / Format: Paperback / Date of publication: 03 February 2003 / Genre: Modern & Contemporary Fiction / Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group / Title: Fingersmith / ISBN 13: 9781860498831 / ISBN 10: 1860498831 „
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This is a review of the 2002 book "Fingersmith" by Sarah Waters. This author is well known for her books "Tipping the Velvet" and I also read and enjoyed "Affinity" a few years back. The books tend to explore Victorian lesbian relationships so perhaps are not for everyone but I do like to read a wide variety of books and would probably put this in my top 10 of most enjoyable reads. I note that the previous 10 reviews have an average score of 5/5 stars, and I can't disagree with this.
A little about
The book begins set in the house of thieves, a place reminiscent of Fagin's place in Oliver Twist. It's lovely how the author actually makes reference to the story setting one early scene in a theatre where the show is Oliver. Meanwhile, a child called Sue is being brought up by the matronly Mrs Sucksby who farms unwanted babies (and sells them). For some reason, Sue is special and Mrs Sucksby keeps Sue close to her at all times. All around them the house is run by dodgy characters who make keys (and break in to places); melt down gold and silver and remove the marks on valuable jewellery to help them resell it. One of the characters steals dogs and holds their owners to ransom. The dogs he can't sell back are used for their fur and he uses the scraps to make himself a dog fur coat. (Now that really turns my stomach).
Sue is destined for big things. A plan is formed where she will become a lady's maid to the young and innocent Maud who is worth a fortune, should she get married. A man known as 'Gentleman' who has fallen from grace from his well to do family is the coordinator of the plan and also Maud's intended husband. The unlucky lady is destined to be held in a mad house after the wedding whilst Gentleman, Sue and Mrs S spend their windfall.
The story is told firstly by Sue and then it goes back to the beginning and tells of Maud's experiences first hand. It is amazing how different the story becomes depending on whom is telling it. Both are the victims of Gentleman's cruel treatment and he cares little for either of their wellbeing. At first I thought it may be a bit repetitive but you need both sides to see how the story really forms.
I could write for hours on the intelligence and clever twists and turns in the book but I really don't want to give away the clever storyline as it really is something you should find out for yourself. I enjoyed every single page of the book and was so pleased that it was 500+ pages as it needed the length to reveal each section in turn. I can think of lots of friends who would enjoy reading this book. I mentioned earlier that there is some lesbian content but it is not graphic at all and more suggestive. For example, one moment is simply when Sue as a maid uses a silver thimble to smooth a sharp point on Maud's tooth. A simple act but both are moved beyond belief at this intimate act.
The emotions and feelings are covered more thoroughly as each women learns to cope with her confusion over the love she feels.
Some of the scenes in the mad house are disturbing. It is sad and brutal how the women are kept and treated by the staff. The inmates have to decide whether to fight or fit in and eventually are ground down to submission in the end.
This book is so clever, it really kept me turning the pages and I enjoyed reading it for several days. The content challenged me mentally and I really didn't guess what was about to happen (which is unusual). It really made me appreciate quality literature and a well thought out storyline. I can't recommend this book highly enough and it will keep you guessing! The way the book is narrated ensures no stone is left unturned and something that is casually referenced earlier in the book becomes key to the character's survival later on.
On starting to read another book by Sarah Waters (The Little Stranger), I decided that it was about time that I got around to reviewing the last book I read by her: Fingersmith. I read this book over the space of only a few days back in September and just couldn't put it down, despite being on a Shakespeare viewing holiday in Stratford upon Avon for most of the time I was reading it. Not for a long time have I found a book that I found so gripping and unpredictable that compelled me to keep reading as Fingersmith did. It was written in a beautiful way and the story was unlike any other that I'd read before.
== Fingersmith ==
Sue Trinder is a young woman and thief living in the slums of London in the 1860s. Her mother having been executed when Sue was a child, she lives with a 'baby farmer', Mrs Sucksby, whom she treats as if she were her own mother, as well as a few other children and ne'er do wells. They are poor and make a living from crime, and when their friend 'Gentleman' comes to visit with a plot that will make them all rich, they are all enthusiastic. Gentleman's plan to trick a wealthy woman into marrying him so he can steal her fortune is a wicked one, but one likely to work, but he needs Sue to make sure it all runs smoothly. So Sue travels to live as lady Maud Lily's maid and eventually betray her.
== My Thoughts ==
This book is thick on plot and as much as I want to go on and on about all the parts that I loved, I won't give away too much so as not to spoil the story. What I will say, is that this book gripped me fairly early on with its seductive writing style and intriguing plot, but it was the unexpected twists and turns as the book unfolded that made me stay up until the wee hours desperate to find out what happens next. Some revelations and events in the story were shocking and all were interesting, with a lot of controversial themes thrown in here and there to make things more thrilling still.
=== Sex, Sex and Gayness===
The author, Sarah Waters, is probably best known for her book 'Tipping The Velvet', which was adapted by the BBC a few years ago. I saw about half an hour of it when it was on TV and remember finding it good but never got around to watching the rest or reading the book. My mam, however, has a few of her books and raves about them and so has forced a couple of them upon me. Any of you who know of Sarah Waters will probably know that she is famously a lesbian writer, and the theme of homosexuality features heavily in 'Tipping The Velvet' as well as some of her other works. Ciao have even listed this book as being part of the 'Gay/Lesbian' genre, but I don't think that that's particularly fair. Saying that Fingersmith is a lesbian book completely ignores that it's a spectacularly well-written book with a fantastic plot, and focuses far too much on an aspect which isn't the main point of the story whatsoever. I feel that labelling this novel as gay fiction implies that it will only be of interest to those who are homosexual themselves, which is ridiculous. While I would, in all honesty, probably describe myself as bisexual if asked, I don't feel that that fact in any way contributed to my enjoyment of the book and that a fully straight person wouldn't enjoy it quite as much. In any case, don't let the description of this book as being a 'gay/lesbian' book affect your decision to read and enjoy this in any way as I don't feel that it's conducive to your unbiased enjoyment of the story.
That's not to say that there aren't a lot of sexual aspects and references in this novel, as there are quite a few. There isn't much that is graphic but I still found some of it a bit surprising and my jaw dropped on occasion. If you get very offended by sexual references of any kind I would firstly advise you to try to open your mind somewhat, but then if that didn't work, suggest that you may not like certain parts of this book. If you're averagely disposed to themes of a sexual nature then you'll be perfectly fine if not a bit amused and interested by certain parts of the book, but I reckon only the most prudish would take particular offense when reading this.
=== Atmosphere ===
This book was wonderfully atmospheric and captured my imagination perfectly. The sights, sounds and day to day realities of the Victorian era were conveyed in an elegant and natural style, with the story being set in the 1860s being essential to the plot but without playing on that too much to keep you interested. I felt the claustrophobia of the London slums and the grandeur of Briar and the English countryside. I did feel completely swept into the time and place of Fingersmith and this was a large part of my enjoyment of the book. Due to its language and frankness with some of the sexual references, it is unlikely to be mistaken for a novel written at the time, but other than that it felt very true to the Victorian era.
== In Conclusion ==
Fingersmith was a book that I absolutely adored and could not recommend highly enough. I definitely plan on reading this again in the future when it's not as fresh in my memory, and it has joined the list of my favourite books of all time (which I will share with you one day if you express an interest). It has given me high hopes for 'The Little Stranger', which I am only a short way through, and I imagine that I will become a greater fan of Sarah Waters with every book of hers that I read. A paperback version of this book can be found for around £5, while the Kindle download is available for slightly cheaper. I would say that this is an absolute bargain for what is such an unbelievably fantastic book.
Fingersmith is a modern book set in the Victorian era. It is a book filled with love, crime, villians and most of all plot twists. An interview with Sarah Waters revealed she has researchers to look into history to make sure it is historically acurate and you can really see this with her referances to the mad house and books that Mr Lilly reads (which is part of the plot twist). The book is written in dual narrraive from the view of Maud and Sue and follows a plot to steal Mauds money and how the two girls are connected.
This book contains the sterotypical villian in the form of 'Gentleman' but this novel also leaves the reader wondering who is good and who is bad within the plot as each character has somthing to hide and their stories are slowly revealed throughout the book in a series of twists and shocks.
Sarah Waters also explores themes of sexuality an madness within the book through the characters of Maud and Sue but also through Mr Lilly.
I would says this book would be for an elderly teen and above read as it does go into themes which may be unsutible for younger readers.
I bought this book for about £5 of amazon and it was a book i never put down it keeps you thourally enagadged and even after you finish it leaves you still askng questions.
Fingersmith is a story of family, love, passion, and betrayal. In reviewing this I will have to avoid divulging too much of the story as it will ruin it for the reader.
The story begins in London, in the home of Susan Trinder, a young "fingersmith" living with a woman named Mrs Sucksby who runs a baby farm, whilst all the lodgers bring their income by other illegal means. The first part of the story is told from Sue's perspective.
"Gentleman" calls on the household one evening with a proposition which will make them all a great deal of money - he wants Sue's help to swindle a young heiress to a fortune. His plan is that Sue will become a lady's maid to the girl - Maud - and persuade her to marry Gentleman. They will then put her in a madhouse, and Gentleman will clam all of her inheritance as her husband. After some negotiation she agrees to the scam, and sets off for her new temporary home.
We find that Maud is a rather odd character, who has been brought up in a very insular environment by her Uncle, who has her reading and writing in his library for long periods each day.
The plan is compromised when Sue falls in love with Maud, and when Gentleman turns up as "Mr Rivers" to woo Maud she finds it difficult to continue with the deception.
Later in the book we see the story from Maud's perspective, which puts a surprising spin on what we have seen thus far.
The story is packed with dramatic twists and turns, and keeps the reader riveted - you will not want to put this down.
From beginning to end this novel is engaging. Having only read one other of hers (Tipping The Velvet) I will certainly be going on to read her others. It's easy enough to find out plot details about this so I won't go into that. What I will say is that her writing style is fantastic. I was pleased not to have known anything about the novel before I read it, as I do believe any spoilers will impact upon your enjoyment. All you need to know is that all of the characters are fabulous, evocative narrative really pulls you into Victorian London.
The time is 1862 and we are with a mix of characters from all classes. The way Waters moves between the different strata's of society is impressive, making the journey both enjoyable and knowledgeable. Even the way the characters speak is entertaining and you find yourself supporting both Lilly and Maud at different times. I can't wait to read more by Sarah Waters and can thoroughly recommend this. You won't be able to put it down.
In writing 'Fingersmith' Sarah Waters has not only written a fantastic historical thriller but she has shown her literary skill and knowledge by mimicking the Victorian mystery melodrama genre with great aplomb.
The story deals with two young girls both just seventeen, one Sue Trinder an orphan and street thief brought up in Borough a rough quarter of Victorian London, the other Maud Lilly an only child also orphaned at a young age brought up in a mental asylum but now living with her rich uncle Lilly (based on real life book collector Henry Spenser Ashbee) in the decaying splendour of Briar a country manor house on the banks of the Thames on the outskirts of London. Both girls become embroiled in a cunning and fiendish plan by Richard Rivers a roguish conman also known as 'Gentleman' to steal a large fortune but things don't go to plan and soon both girls find themselves in great danger, their freedom and sanity in peril.
To describe the novel as 'Dickensian' would be accurate in that it is set in the lower circles of Victorian criminal society. This is a world thieve dens in run down parts of London. There are gangs of children roaming the streets pick pocketing passers like Fagin's gang in 'Oliver Twist' and indeed Dickens's novels popular at the time are mentioned in the story. Of course the parallels with Dickens are not accidental neither are the similarities to another contemporary style of the Victorian period the so-called 'Penny Dreadful' or 'Sensational' novels by authors like Wilkie Collins. Although most of these could be described also as early detective novels their main feature was that their convoluted plot always had a secret to reveal. 'Fingersmith' is not a detective novel but it certainly does have plenty of secrets that are revealed in sensational and gripping fashion throughout. These 'Sensational' novels were also characterised by the plight of a central female character often facing 'sexual peril'. The stories exuded an overall creepy atmosphere, bleak setting filled with menace populated by sneering villains and vulnerable heroines. Sarah Walters adopts these characteristics in 'Fingersmith', the two central female characters go through very tough times before a dramatic and violent conclusion takes place. As in previous Waters novels the female characters are the best defined and the strongest in the story. Both Maud and Sue are intricate personalities, Maud has been corrupted by her Uncle's virtual imprisonment of her and her abuse at being exposed to sexual deviancy and eroticism that would've have been unthinkable to any young woman of her social class. Maud is in many ways a contradiction in that she has lost her innocence by virtue of her treatment and knowledge and yet is naive and childish in her relations with others.
Sue on the face of it is totally different she has grown up as a Fingersmith (thief) and belongs to a street gang led by the imposing Mrs Sucksby and Mr Ibbs an expert locksmith and criminal fence. She has had to learn from a very early age that life is tough and that to survive you have to be prepared to live a life of crime. Despite this Sue is not totally corrupted by this world, she has also been protected from the worst excesses by Mrs Sucksby who it seems favoured her amongst the rest of the gang becoming like a mother to her. So despite her harsh upbringing Sue is still an innocent in many ways just as Maud is.
The story centered around these two girls is split in three parts telling us the story from a changing perspective and surprising the reader with each turn of the page. This way of unravelling the story is both intriguing and frustrating, it is the one aspect of the book that I felt a little unsure about. In essence the story told in part one is repeated through the eyes of a second character in part two. While this is a clever literary device and allows us to see beyond the surface plot to uncover hidden schemes and subterfuge it also felt like the story had stalled and I was to some extent irritated that I had to wait to reach part three for any real narrative progression. I must state though that this in the end is a minor criticism and in retrospect the story overall benefited by the way it was laid out in three parts using different character perspective.
Sarah Waters is very good at setting up the uncompromising brutal Victorian world where money and status was essential to avoid destitution. She vividly bring to life the ghetto like Borough where Sue and her 'family' of thieves live in a crumbling house often full of abandoned babies that Mrs Sucksby takes in order to sell on to others. The cries of the babies being subdues by 'dosing' them with gin!
Waters also manages to bring to life the horrors of the Victorian mental asylums that were used more often than not to hide away unwanted relatives or women that had brought dishonour on their families. These where dreadful places manned by overbearing sadistic nurses who tortured the inmates with a variety of inhumane treatments. Medical cures of sorts were administered by quack doctors who believed in the intrinsic instability and fragility of women's minds if they were exposed to too much freedom of thought and general excitement. The reality of life for many women at this time was bleak. The prospect of marriage was a dangerous one. On one hand it could bring security and social acceptance on the other a woman became totally legally subservient to her husband and thus could be abused by him or with the agreement of malleable doctors could be locked away in a prison like asylum if her presence became an inconvenience.
I don't know for sure how accurate the descriptions of Victorian life were but they certainly felt believable and I would expect that a great deal of research was done from an author such as Waters who has a Ph.D. in English Literature and has been an associate lecturer with the Open University.
One aspect of 'Fingersmith' that you would not have found (at least such an obvious way) in the original Victorian sensational novels is sex and eroticism. Of course Walters is famous for what has been described as 'Lesbian Victoriana' best exemplified by her earlier novel 'Tipping the Velvet' and 'Fingersmith' once again leads us into this forbidden world of Victorian desire.
Another aspect of the story, which differs from the original novels (but maybe is more realistic that the originals) is the language used by the character. There are plenty of expletives and for a while this seemed odd since we all have a certain image of how period speech should be from the novels of the time and the films adaptations and costume dramas we have all seen. Even the most ruthless and despicable characters like Bill Sykes never uttered the F word although we know that it was commonly used in the rougher strata of Victorian societies. This preconditioning to the genre makes it odd for us to see the characters 'effing and blinding' at every turn. You quickly get used to this and of course this is far more realistic than any language Dickens would ever have his characters use.
Waters is often seen as a woman's writer and it is true that her main characters in this book as in her other books mainly strong women but it would be a mistake to exclude a male readership because of this. The story is ultimately high melodrama with an intriguing mystery at its centre but it is also a cracking read and will satisfy anyone who has a liking for the Victorian genre.
'Fingersmith' is available in paperback (560 pages) published by Virago Press (ISBN-10: 1860498833
ISBN-13: 978-1860498831) from Amazon for £5.98 (+p&p) at the time this review was written.
© Mauri 2007
The first of Sarah Waters books that I have both read and enjoyed, Fingersmith is a brilliant Dickensian tale of orphans, the seedy criminal underworld of 19th century London and mis-placed identity that has much in common with Oliver Twist to which there are many crafty nods throughout the course of the novel.
Sue Trinder has been brought up an orphan in the house of Mrs.Suckesby surrounded by ne'er-do-well types, screaming babies and the popular fence of stolen goods Mr.Ibbs after her mother was hanged for murder within sight of her bedroom window.
A regular caller, known only as Gentleman, pays a visit one evening with Sue in mind for a devious scam. She will go to a mansion house, out in the country, pose as a Lady's maid and help Gentleman to seduce a young girl under the care of her eccentric uncle with the intention of marrying her and stealing from the Lady her inheritance- a portion of which he will give to Sue and Mrs.Suckesby for their part in his nefarious schemes.
Of course things do not, as they are wont not to do, go as planned and Sue finds herself falling deeply and emotionally for the Lady she is supposed to be serving. Gentleman is determined not to see his plans come to naught and starts to show his more vicious and mean-spirited side and then, at the plans cultimation, events occur which throw everything on its head.
If you have seen the BBC adaptation, you pretty much know what to expect though the novel of course gos into far much more depth. If you haven't seen the BBC version, as I hadn't, then get ready for plenty of shocks and twists as the story enfolds. There is a small touch of lesbanism but, far from gratuitous, the matter is subtly handled and is more erotic and sensual than in any way pornographic.
I went into this not really knowing quite what to expect but am happy to say this is one of the best reads I have read all year. I would certainly go out of my way to read one of her books again and in point of fact actually have another of her novels, AFFINITY ( probably her next best known book after TIPPING THE VELVET ), on my to-be read pile at the moment and look forward to indulging in the new year.
If you're a fan of the classics, this book will fit right in on your bookshelves next to Dickens' A tale of Two cities or A christmas Carol or mayhaps between Dafoe's Robinson Crusoe or Dumas' Three Musketeers; it certainly is a modern classic set in times long past and something I would well reccommend.
The only slight I had was how the novel retold the story in the second part from a diffrent perspective, thus breaking the flow of the plot a little, but, on completion, you can kind of see how this was nessecary in order for the book's premise to work.
All in all- this is a most enjoyable read with strong, believable characterisation and a deeply gripping plot and certainly deserves to take pride of place on my shelves at the moment.
This book is set in 1862 London, and follows a young orphan being brought up by a lower class family (of thieves!). A similar orphan is being brought up in a country house nearby and their fates are entwined in ways you could never guess.
This outline in no way does the book justice, because it is a page turner of the highest class. It rightfully has been nominated for many awards. I literally couldn't put it down, and the twists and turns of the plot will keep you guessing right till the very last page.
Give it a go if you like: thrillers, Victorian novels, 'racy' books - there are a couple of scenes not for children!!
It's also been made into a TV adaptation.
Tempted by my first experience of the written work of Sarah Waters, and her book Affinity (Published in 2005 and therefore later than this work), I bought this book with high expectations and upon recommendation.
The story is set in London, the year 1862. We are introduced to the characters that are to form the foundation of the book fairly early on, and the reader is taken from the lowly Borough area of London where Susan Trinder's formative years are spent in the care of a Mrs. Sucksby who takes in infants, and Mr. Ibbett, who looks after the local Locksmith shop. The characters that build up the texture of the story are colourful and very believeable, and the visit of The Gentleman is about to change the fortunes of the young Susan for ever.
The writing of the story can only be described as delicious. Many writers make the mistake of using many words to say nothing. Sarah Waters uses exquisite detail and in doing so, makes the sense and sensibility of her characters work. Taking the story from the perspectives of the characters involved seems to be a theme in the writing of this author, though it is never dull, never boringly tempting the reader to jump a few paragraphs as other writers do. The detail and description is what makes the story work so well. Let me try and explain. Think of sentiment and also think of reaction and logical thought processes. These are the chocolates that the reader is tempted into tasting, and by goodness, Sarah Waters knows how to convince without overkill, whilst many other writers of this kind of literature don't.
On a scale of ease from a reading point of view, her writing is crystal clear. It doesn't bore the reader, though is not light reading. It took about a week for me to read this book, a few hours a day, but it was worthy of the time I spent, because each little touching of the reader's senses is so clever. Take for example the similarities of circumstance between the two leading ladies of the story, Susan Tinder and a lady that is introduced in the second chapter, Maud, both having lost their mothers early within their lives, though one brought up in a thieving environment, whilst the other experienced her youth within the confines of a mental institution.
Each of these main characters is portrayed in first person, and it was a joy to find that although you feel every sentiment and every life changing event of the two ladies, and the perceptions they form of both each other and of characters within their lives, Sarah Waters manages to surprise you with a simple turn of events that is never obvious, even though you feel you know the ladies thought processes so personally.
A thriller, with a plot so thick you cannot guess the outcome, a story of love, deception, hope, despair, anticipation, longing and human greed; I don't want to give away story plot, because that is part of the joy of reading. I guessed the next turn in the story several times, and was wrong, and at each opportunity that the writer had to be predictable, she delighted the reader with yet another complex though convincing scenario. It is a wonderful book, and I shall certainly be buying all of her others, based on the two I have so far read. Her use of perspective is delicious. There is no other word that adequately describes the adventure of reading or the anticipation of it that I can find, although I am certain that Sarah Waters herself would find a tantalizingly simple one that says more than that. From each characters' perception of what is happening around them and the detail employed by the writer, the reader can see the logic that happens in real life, where two people see the same situation differently, and the texture of characters is deep and has meaning and reason.
It is a story of thievery, humble background, balanced by the background of wealth, both rich in their elements of moral fibre, and delicately woven substance of descriptive imagery.
Of the two books, I must say that I do prefer Affinity, not because of any difference in the style of writing, but in that Affinity was a more personal read in that it touched the supernatural which intrigued me more. This book has equal merits in both its' written style and what it offers the reader, and has been televised by the BBC, although I would never watch it, as I would not wish for the written word to be tainted by imagery that I now see as part and parcel of the story as read by me. One criticism was the authors' choice of name for the character Susan, since I must admit to cringing a little at the use of such a seemingly modern name. It didn't seem to fit.
Would I recommend the purchase of the book ? Yes, I would. Sarah Waters is a classical author and worth spending money on. Don't borrow it from the library. Be proud to own a piece of writing history as it is astounding.
Paperback: 560 pages
Publisher: Virago Press Ltd (3 Feb 2003)
Available from Amazon from 1.23 GPB, though new at 6.39 GPB and a bargain at that.
Had I been more careful in my choice, I think I would have bought the hardback as I treasure books of this standard.
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Virago Press Ltd (4 Feb 2002)
Priced at 8.57 GBP new.
At these prices, the risk is minimal, though the enjoyment factor amazingly good value.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002, Virago Press) was nominated for both the Man Booker prize and the Orange prize, which is no slight achievement and which is fully deserved by this gripping and complex story. The novel is set in 1862 in London and provides a treat of atmospheric urban Victorian settings. The den of thieves, the lunatic asylum and the creepy mansion are staples of the Gothic imagination, but Waters' descriptions make them vivid and compelling. Mrs Sucksby's shady town house is palpably seedy; Maud Lilly's home becomes increasinbly sinister with each new turn of events. This novel is far more than the sum of these successful settings, however. The storyline twists and curves, taking the reader on an exciting journey of secrets and deceptions, constructing reality only to demolish it and show events to be far more complex than is initially supposed. Sue Trinder is an orphan raised by thieves; her mission is to infiltrate a rich country house as the new maid of Maud Lilly. Once there she has to convince Maud to marry 'Gentleman', a charming criminal who is planning to seize Maud's fortune and then have her sent to a lunatic asylum. But events spiral out of the control of any of the characters, sending the reader on a rollercoaster ride of danger and revelation, peppered by the complexity of Sue and Maud's relationship. I would thoroughly recommend this book for its gripping storyline, successful period reconstruction and fascinating cast of entertaining, sinister and sympathetic characters.
If I may I'd like to preface this review with a caveat or three. First of all, I'm a huge Sarah Waters fan, simply finding her to be one of the most exciting young writers working today. Secondly, I'm new to DooYoo, and delighted to be here. As far as I can find there are no restrictions about posting a comment elsewhere after it has been posted here, which is what I'd like to do with this. When I'm truly excited about something I tend to want to tell the world, and I hope that none of my new colleages find that objectionable. Nonetheless, I'm still feeling my way and appreciate very much your guidance and time spent in reading my thoughts. Now, here are my thoughts about one of the finest books I've read. ******** Perspicacious and powerful, English writer Sarah Water's third offering is as lavish as her bold debut, Tipping The Velvet (1999). Once again the author returns to the period and places she so perfectly limns, while filling her complexly plotted tale with dissolute characters bent on nefarious doings. It is 19th century London, Lant Street, a dark thoroughfare home to fingersmiths (thieves), most notably Mrs. Sucksby, a double-dealing Dickensian matron, if there ever was one. She traffics in castoff babies, whom she doses with a spot of gin when they wail, and is landlady to an assortment of petty criminals. There is Mr. Ibbs who keeps his locksmith's brazier going so he can melt down pilfered coins, and Sue Trinder, a 17-year-old orphan, who receives unusually tender care from Mrs. Sucksby. An engaging charlatan, Richard Rivers known as Gentleman, suggests a fanciful plot that will make them all wealthy. He intends to scam elderly Mr. Lilly, a collector of rare books, by marrying Lilly's niece, Maud, described as "fey, an innocent, a natural." Once the pair are wed and she has received her inheritance, Maud will be consig
ned to a madhouse, and the plotters will divide their booty. In order to ensure the success of his plan, Gentleman seeks the assistance of Sue. He asks her to pretend to be Susan Smith and gain employment as lady's maid to Maud so that she can help convince Maud of Gentleman's love for her. Sue agrees, and after instructions on how to behave leaves the only home she has ever known for Briar which she finds to be "a muddle of yards and out-houses and porches, and more dark walls and shuttered windows and the sound of barking dogs." Her reward for being an acceptable lady's maid? She will be allowed to keep "the pieces of soap that Miss Maud leaves in her wash-stand." As chary as she is of being in this strange place, Sue finds herself drawn to the hapless Maud. The two women become unexpectedly close. Then, in a sudden amazing twist, we find that things are not as they seem and people are not who we believed them to be. When the events that led up to this time are recounted through another's eyes we discover secrets long hidden and the shocking truth about Mr. Lilly's collection. Maud, too, has a story to tell. Circumstances force the two women to respond in differing ways which leads to a horrifying crime before a completely unexpected denouement. "Fingersmith" is an epic gothic novel rich in detail and ripe with suspense. Sarah Waters is an author both cerebral and cunning; she is a virtuoso wielding a powerful pen.
London, 1862. Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, grows up among petty thieves - fingersmiths - under the rough but loving care of Mrs Sucksby and her 'family'. But from the moment she draws breath, Sue's fate is linked to that of another orphan growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away. From the celebrated author of 'Tipping the Velvet' and 'Affinity'.