Book Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (3/5)

30 Mar

I read my first Sarah Waters book as part of a book club selection and adored the fast-paced and Victorian setting. I was excited to dive into another. I wasn’t intimidated by the long length of this book at first and took it with me on vacation to Greece so I could dive in and get started on the journey. But somewhere along the way, I got tired of it and it started to grow slow and I began to lose interest. Never completely, as I finished this book rather quickly, but I just wasn’t as invested as I had been.

Cover image via Goodreads

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Other books by Waters reviewed on this blog:

Affinity (and book club reflection and movie review)

Summary from Goodreads:

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer,” who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.

One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.

With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways, but no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.

I loved the world Waters built at the beginning of the story. Sue was a great character and I liked the battle between her kind heart and her desire to make a fortune for herself. The way she learned to live in the Lilly’s world was fun to watch and I really felt her affection for Maud grow. After the end of part one, I was geeked to see how the rest of the book would play out. But I found myself ultimately disappointed in how parts two and three were paced. Part two was a bore as I’d already seen most of the action play out from Sue’s point of view and I didn’t really need to see Maud’s view; it was pretty easy to guess just based on how part one ended and a little bit of Maud’s story to get her personality. After being disappointed in part two, part three was a little better, but still seemed to drag to get to the main action that ended the story and I found myself bored until Sue made it back to London. The good ending almost made up for the long road to get there, but I was still a bit disappointed.

I’m not sure I ever bought into Maud feeling like a real person. She’s so innocent as to be comical in part one and then so cynical as to be unbelievable in part two. By the time she makes it to London, she starts to seem real but I think it was too late for me to sympathize with her at that point. I liked Sue and I wanted good things to happen to her so I was rooting for Sue throughout the whole debacle and wasn’t too upset when bad things happened to Maud.

Sue was my favorite character. She was a sweet girl and too trusting. It came back to bite her several times but it hurt the most when Mrs. Sucksby betrayed her. She was resourceful though at times she seemed to be a bit helpless. It felt like she had more ‘true’ feelings and reactions to things than Maud did. I could understand why she reacted the way she did to her situations whereas I wasn’t sure why Maud felt some of the things she did. I could see someone falling into Sue’s situation more easily than any of the other characters.

This was a fanciful story. I can’t imagine anything like this playing out in real life because it all seems so far fetched. Nothing in this story was really relatable to me and that might have been part of why it was hard for me to immerse myself. Sue’s life is much rougher than most people in our society can imagine and Maud’s is much grander. They are two ends of a spectrum that was hard to relate to and they both seemed too different from me for me to see myself in them.

Sarah Waters
Image via Goodreads

Sue’s interpretation of her time at Briar was my favorite. I liked it even better when it was flipped on its head at the end of part one. Seeing her slowly fall in love with Maud and begin to care about her was sweet and I enjoyed it. She made Gentleman out to be a huge brute as well which was fun to watch. I’m not sure if I would have liked the book better if it had ended there, but it would have made for quite the ending.

Maud’s section of the book was too much for me. It was very repetitive and the more I think about it, it could have been cut. I’m not sure we learned anything during Maud’s narrative that we didn’t know from Sue already or didn’t learn from her later. I think it made the story drag unnecessarily and would have kept the storyline paced much better to have taken it out.

The ultimate question is what you are willing to do for a family. Sue has a rough sense of family because the people she’s lived without are not blood relatives but have helped raise her. But to Mrs. Sucksby, she is not family because someone else is and she’s willing to sacrifice a lot to restore her family. Maud sacrifices a lot for her uncle because he is family but is pushed to a breaking point and wants to betray him and ultimately doesn’t seem to care much for what happens to him. Sue and Maud are seeking a family that will love and care about them, not necessarily one that is a blood relation. You’re asked to think about which is most important.

Writer’s Takeaway: Waters has a few great twists to this story, the first one at the end of part one and a second at the end of part two that’s fully realized at the end of part three. I think the first and second were too far spaced out. I figured out the second twist based on very little information and then was bored through part two leading up to the twist and then again in part three as the twist became fully apparent. The pacing wasn’t good for me and I think it’s an instance of an author not wanting to cut out writing she liked even when it wasn’t necessary for the story.

Overall an interesting read with some fun twists but still a bit of a drag. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfills the 1800-1899 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Sarah Waters ⋅ Fingersmith | Watercolorstain
Book Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters | The Owl and the Reader
Surprising Twists, Shifting Identities and Unexpected Pleasures in Captivating ‘Fingersmith’ | Boston Theatre Wing
Review of “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters | Rhapsody in Books Weblog
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters | Vulpes Libris


2 Responses to “Book Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (3/5)”

  1. Jules_Writes March 30, 2020 at 1:55 PM #

    Great review! I’ve yet to read this one but I do usually love Sarah Waters.


    • Sam March 30, 2020 at 3:38 PM #

      Affinity was my other read and I just felt it was paced better. At over 500 pages, this was pretty long! Happy reading.

      Liked by 1 person

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