Tag Archives: Affinity

‘Affinity’ Movie- Still really good and creepy!

16 Mar

Image via MoviePosters2

I read the book Affinity for my book club way back in October of 2013 but my interest in it was recently rekindled when someone commented on my book club reflection for the book. I found out there’s a movie version! And my library owns it! It’s been a while since I read the book, but I wanted to see what the movie had to offer. I don’t remember all of the details of the book but I’ll do my best here to compare the two.

Things I Thought Were Awesome

Seeing Peter Quick. I won’t say too much, but I think the final scene with Peter was much easier to follow than the book. I struggled to see the crime scene while reading the book but seeing the film made it a lot clearer how everything was playing out.

The locket. I think I missed the connection with the locket when I was reading the book initially and had to have my book club point it out to me. Being able to see the physical object helped. I’ll add here that seeing other things that were connected was much easier in the film.

Changes That Didn’t Really Bother Me

Margaret seeing other visitors. It was always clear that Margaret was only seeing other women to appease the matrons so taking that out of the movie was just a way to cut filler. I did think it made Margaret a bit more suspicious, though. She was obviously spending far too much time with Selena and I think more would have been done to stop her.

Less focus on the Spiritual Society. I remember the library playing a bigger part in the book and feeling like the book was a bit off course during those parts. It seemed like a distraction from the action and main plot that wasn’t really developing Selena well. I was fine with the minimized role it played in the movie.

Image from Goodreads

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Things That Were Taken Out and I’m Still Wondering Why

This part is hard to write so long after reading the book. I do remember a big focus on wearing mourning clothes and while Margaret keeps to the black, it’s never brought up or mentioned which I thought strange.

Things That Changed Too Much

Theophilus. I don’t remember him from the book, but maybe that’s time fading the story. I remember the romance between Selena and Margaret, but I don’t remember him. Maybe it was played up a bit in the film? The actor made the part very memorable.

The ending. While the voiceover mirrored the text, you really had to read into the meaning of the words to understand what Margaret was doing (I’m trying so hard not to give too much away for anyone interested!). In the film, it was a little too obvious. I felt like something I had to dig for was just given to viewers.

Having such a long time between the two has really dampened my memory of the book. I remembered the big points, but picking out smaller changes has been hard. Reader, have you see the Affinity movie? What did you think? Was it close to the book?

Until next time, write on.

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Book Club Reflection: Affinity by Sarah Waters

22 Oct

Thank the genius who invented book clubs!  I’m so glad this book was discussed last Monday.  A lot of the questions I had about the ending and what ‘really’ happened were answered in the first five minutes and we were able to have a great discussion on the merits of the book.

Interestingly, a large number of people in the group came without finishing the book.  I don’t know if I could ever do that, but there were about four people who did.  We admitted that it was a little slow in the middle, but the reader found at the end that those small details and build-up were necessary for the ending to make sense.  Waters crafted a beautiful story.

I wrote my review of the book a few weeks back (if you want to reference it) so this post will mainly focus on what my group discussed.  Yes, I will give away the ending.  No, I’m not sorry.

Waters received a PhD. in Gay and Lesbian Historical Fiction.  I’ve personally never read any GLBT historical fiction before this book and secretly wonder if she got her doctorate in her own work.  Her first book, Tipping the Velvet is also a coming-out story.  Affinity was her second novel and a later book, The Night Watch focuses more on two woman in a mature lesbian relationship.  (If anyone can recommend other GLBT historical fiction, please leave a comment.  I’d be interested to see what else she could have written her dissertation on.)

Margaret’s motivations were some of the first things we discussed.  She seems like a strong character at first, someone who is able to stand being in a prison system for long periods of time.  As time passes, she seems weaker as she is sucked in to the lies that Selina spins around her.  One woman pointed out that this weakness is derived from her obsession and that obsessions make humans weaker in general.  Take addictions for example.  We see a side of Margaret’s fancies and obsessions through her relationship with Helen, her sister-in-law and ex-lover.  Some thought the end of her relationship might have triggered Margaret’s suicide attempt, but I personally suspect her father’s death was the larger factor.  It seems that Mrs. Prior and Margaret’s brother never knew about their relationship, but Mrs. Prior starts to figure it out.  I just thought, maybe Margaret’s father knew she was a lesbian and was the only person who she felt comfortable telling. This could be why his death was even more traumatic for her.

We discussed what would have made someone suggest that Margaret, so soon after a suicide attempt, volunteer at a prison when there are so many other charitable ventures she could have partaken in.  A very logical suggestion was that because suicide was considered a crime in the UK until 1961 so Margaret’s attempt could have landed her in the prison if her family was not so well connected.  Being in the prison was meant to be a deterrent to keep her from attempting it again.  Another theory we came up with is that there was a larger conspiracy to get her into the prison so that she could meet Selina.  Mr. Shillitoe, portrayed as a friend of the family, could have been reaping the benefits of getting Selina freed from the prison.  It seems too much of a coincidence that she’s taken to the room with Selina’s hair and this could be a deeper level of the conspiracy.

The prison itself is the main setting of the story even though much of Margaret’s action takes place in her own home.  It’s described as “a grim old creature” by the porter who also says to Margaret, “I have stood where you are standing now and heard her groan– plain as a lady (312).” The prison does not just look unhappy, it’s acting unhappy.

The unhappy and gloomy mood is set so wonderfully that reading the book almost makes the reader depressed.  One of our readers called it a ‘gas-light atmosphere’ and I don’t think there’s a better way to describe it.  The overwhelming gloom fit the period well and reminded many of Charles Dickens and Jane Eyre.  (This was consequently why some felt they were reading a book for high school British Literature and promptly stopped.)  The setting being in London seems to lend itself to this feeling and to the era itself.  To make it even more ominous, most things were described as dark, black, or grey including the clothing.  The book almost felt like it was in black and white.

There’s a lot of meaning behind the words in this book.  Take the title for instance.  “Affinity” means that two things are not just good together, but meant to be together.  This can have a double meaning; that Margaret feels she is meant to be with Selina, or that the meeting of Selina and Margaret so that Selina could escape to be with Ruth is meant to be.  Either way, she uses the title very well.  The character’s names have meaning, too.  Aurora, the name Margaret chooses for herself, is very sensual in nature; a far cry from the matronly sounding ‘Margaret.’  Selina Dawes is meant to remind the reader of ‘doors,’ as doors are very symbolic in the book (the spiritual door between the girls, being locked behind a door, doors being closed, etc.).  There is also a bird called a jackdaw that steals like a magpie.  This is supposed to be like Selina stealing from Margaret.  My favorite character, Peter Quick, has meaning to his name as well.  Waters took the name from a character named Peter Quint in Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw.  ‘Quick’ is used as a clue to the reader that he is ‘quick,’ as in still alive and not dead.

The drugs that Margaret takes throughout the novel have a strong effect on her and it’s likely that the contributed to some of her character change.  She first takes chloral, a drug that was commonly used at the time and considered safe to use as a sleep aide.  She is later prescribed laudanum, which is a highly addictive narcotic from the opioid family.  My suspicion is that the drug made her feel the connections with Selina that she claims and that the supposed connections are not at all real.  With how much her mother gave her, one wonders if her mother wanted Margaret to be almost incapacitated by the drug.

Time to talk about the ending.  It seems I didn’t quite understand what had happened at the end when I read it myself, so I’m going to spell it out in case there are other readers here who were as confused as I was.  The big one: Ruth was Peter Quick.  I didn’t get this the first time, but re-reading it, it’s so obvious.  Ruth would flirt with the ladies and almost used it as an excuse to be close to them and touch them while Selina was tied up.  When the attendants of the seance were helping Selina recover, Ruth would take off her Peter Quick costume and dress as the maid again.  Mrs. Brink does not attend these large seances so when she walks in on one and sees Ruth dressed as Peter, she goes into shock, unable to say anything to out Selina as a charlatan and dies of a heart attack.

Margaret’s ending was even more subtle but we decided from the end of her narrative that she decided to commit suicide.  The line is “Selina…[y]our twisting is done- you have the last thread of my heart.  I wonder; when the thread grows slack, will you feel it?” (351).  We took the thread going slack as Margaret no longer being alive to hold it up.

Writers’ Takeaway: The biggest one for me was Water’s ability to create an atmosphere.  The other members of my group loved her style of transporting the reader into such a gloomy and bleak London through her description of buildings, clothing, and the general attitude of the characters.  She did 1870s England wonderfully.

I hope I’ve sparked some interest in those of you who haven’t read the book.  And for those who have, please share your thoughts here, I’d love to continue the discussion with you.  Have a great day!

Book Review: Affinity by Sarah Waters

1 Oct

Wow, I’m suffering from a major book hangover right now.  I was going to write this right away, but I couldn’t get my thoughts together coherently.  So, now that I’ve switched my summer clothes for winter,  I think I’m ready to write my review.

Image from Goodreads

Affinity by Sarah Waters

Affinity by Sarah Waters

I read this book because it’s apart of my ‘edgy’ book club.  That being said, look for a Book Club discussion in two weeks.  If this review piques your interest, you’ve got two weeks before I’ll discuss it in depth (again).  I’m not sure I would have grabbed it otherwise, which is part of the magic of book clubs.

This book is historical fiction with some magical realism and homosexuality.  When I looked at this book on Goodreads, I was surprised how many lesbian/gay/GLBT lists it was on.  For the first half of the book there were very few references to the character’s sexualities.  It does become a rather central theme, however, so if that bothers you, it might be best to avoid this book.  From what I can tell, Waters is referred to by some as the Queen of Lesbian Victorian England Melodrama.  Quite the niche.

I love some good historical fiction and I think Waters did a great job of writing 1870s London.  The setting and cultural norms of the time are very key; a woman’s place in society, the elite of the time, and traveling norms are central to the book.  This was one of those historical fiction novels where the reader feels like they’re living in the period; like a maid is going to come empty my chamber pot and stoke the fire for me in only a few minutes.  I did greatly enjoy this part of Waters’ writing.

The book focuses a lot on Spiritualism.  One of the female leads, Selina, is in Millbank prison due to a mishap at a seance she was conducting that left one woman dead and another deeply disturbed.  Selina’s skill as a spiritualist and medium is discussed at length and takes a central role in the book.  The narrator, Margaret, goes to visit the prisoners at Millbank as a part of her recovery from a suicide attempt.  She is slowly sucked into Selina’s world of spirits, secrets, and conspiracies.  I’ll stop here, but this book takes everything you thought you knew about the characters and turns you on your head in the last twenty pages.  Waters mastered the “WHAT THE F…” moment very well.

The format of the book was the first thing that caught my attention.  The narrator jumps from Margaret in ‘current’ time to Selina two years before, preceding her conviction and lock-up.  Both are written in a journalistic style but with distinct voices.  I was confused by this for the first ten pages or so, and later looked forward to the chapters in Selina’s voice, which were much shorter and leading.  (Good trick, Waters!)

The most memorable character for me was Peter Quick, the spirit that Selina conjures and can give a human form.  The writing leaves you guessing at his intentions beyond the last page.  I know he will be a point of discussion at our book club meeting!  He’s a playful spirit who seems to want to escape his spirit-state while retreating into it at the same time.

If I were to guess at the message Waters is trying to bring across, it would have to do with not judging people by your first opinion of them.  Through Margret’s discussions with the inmates, she learns the various reasons they were put in jail and sympathizes for many of them.  One woman was imprisoned for making fake coins and she explains the economic system of the poor and coiners in London and how she is a victim of circumstance.  She is a part of a community of people who pass fake coins; she makes them and gets them as change so its not always her fake that she’s passing.

At the same time, Margaret has placed her faith in a good friend, Helen, who ends up betraying her.  Even though Helen seems like a respectable woman of the time, the reader learns how she betrayed Margaret and is fake to her husband.

Apart from this, it’s hard to see if there is a message or theme.  I don’t think Waters is making any comments on sexuality other than a few brief comments about how lesbian relationships were not accepted at the time, but we know this from Oscar Wilde’s life.  One could argue she comments on the roles of woman at the time but again this is not surprising to anyone with any brief knowledge of Victorian England.

Writer’s Takeaway: I think this book is a good example of a journalistic style.  Waters mixes Margret’s feelings with dialogue to create a compelling story.  Unlike some diary formats, the dialogue is believable as a memory from the day.  Instead of direct quotes, Margret writes summaries of what was said and doesn’t put all of what she remembers in quotations, leaving one to believe she’s aware it’s not exactly the right words.

I said before, and I’ll say again, Water’s did a great job at a “WHAT THE F…” moment at the end.  It’s a great example of how to leave the reader second guessing their thoughts on the characters.  It’s like The Sixth Sense where you’ll want to go back to see if those hints were there the whole time.  The connections are subtle enough that I didn’t notice them at first (though I did have an inkling at one point), but memorable enough that when the brain blow comes, I could recall the times where the narrator was duped.

Overall, recommended as a fiction story, not so much as historical fiction because of it’s lack of historical elements apart from setting.

Three out of five stars.