YOU GUYS. This book is so good. Let me tell you how good this book is:
Recently, I had to get up very, very early to get on an Amtrak train. Like, 6 am early. I am really not a morning person, and on this particular morning I’d only gotten four hours sleep, so I was struggling. Once on the train, I had a choice: I could go back into warm, delightful sleep, OR I could keep reading Fingersmith, by Sarah Waters. And I chose to read.
A book has to be seriously good to make me choose it over sleep. It’s a testament to how gripping and well-plotted Fingersmith is that I did. No spoilers!
On its surface, Fingersmith is a Victorian thriller about an orphan, Sue Trinder, who plots with a fellow named Gentleman/Richard Rivers to trick lonely, also-orphaned Maud Lilly out of her fortune. Sue becomes Maud’s maid, in order to better persuade her to marry Gentleman, so they can get their hands on her money…and then get rid of her. Seems straightforward, doesn’t it? The twists and turns that the plot takes makes it SO much more, and turns a gothic drama into a sprawling tale filled with love and betrayal and huge secrets that you never saw coming. There are madhouses and villains and dead mothers and crossings and DOUBLE crossings and ack, my heart could hardly take it all.
Now, if you know anything about Sarah Waters, you know that she’s reknowned for her treatment of lesbian relationships. The emotionally-charged relationship that develops between Maud and Susan is handled deftly and with a light touch. I thought it was a thoughtful, sensitive exploration of a love that, due to the restrictive socio-sexual beliefs of the era, was not only looked down upon but was taboo, and actually considered a mental disease that could be cured. (Actually…that sounds sadly familiar). Fair warning for the faint-hearted or intolerant: Fingersmith does contain some (in my opinion, very innocuous and not gratuitous) sex.
Trying to avoid spoilers here, so let’s move on! Waters is a genius at creating atmosphere. You can pretty much FEEL the grit and smog of London accumulating on your clothes and making its way down into your lungs; the streets are confusing and crowded and threatening. The country manor Briar, on the other hand, is silent, cold, and dreary. Each place is stifling in a different way. (It actually reminded me very much of the atmosphere in the novel Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, in terms of feeling the wet and cold coming right off the page.) And both places are by turns menacing, dull, and “home.”
Okay, I am stemming the flow of gushing now. Just…go read Fingersmith. Read it now!
This book counts towards the Women Unbound Challenge.
Bookwanderer Rating: Five out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: Villains and lovers and schemers, oh my!