Tag Archives: Sarah Waters

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.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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

Advertisement

WWW Wednesday, 25-March-2020

25 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ve almost come to a stop with White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I’m working from home for the foreseeable future so reading during lunch isn’t happening the way it normally does. I’ll keep renewing this one and hoping I get through a few pages from time to time, but I think I’ll remain at 5% for quite a while.
I haven’t made much progress with The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz because I’m not driving a lot. And when I am, my husband is with me. We’ll see how long this one takes, but the plus side is that I don’t have to return it to the library until they open again and that could be a while.
I picked up a new eaudiobook, The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. This should be a really short one, it’s less than five hours. With how much I’m running to avoid stress, I think it should be done by next week.
I finally picked up Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago. I’ve been reading more, which is nice. This one might be a bit slow because reading in Spanish slows me down. But it’s YA, so maybe that will help me get through it in an OK time.

Recently finished: I got through The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib quicker than I thought. I’ve been doing some longer workouts to deal with stress and I got my bike software going again, which means long stretches of listening. I expect to be reviewing this next week.
I flew through Fingersmith by Sarah Waters as well. This had more slow parts to it than I would have liked and it started dragging, which was unfortunate. Luckily, increased reading time helped me power through so I was able to wrap it up. Again, look for a review next week.

Two books reviewed, too! I posted a review of Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) last week. I was surprised so many people were unaware Galbraith was a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling but I’m glad I was able to highlight the amazing series, especially with the fifth book recently announced. I gave it Four out of Five Stars.
I reviewed August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones on Monday. This one wasn’t much of a win for me so I’m almost glad the book club meeting for it was canceled. I gave it Two out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: My Buddy Reader and I recently picked our next book so I’ll be starting in on The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern as soon as we find a time to meet up and I can pass her a copy. We’re dividing this one up into 5 sections and we’ll have to wait until we can meet after work again, but I’m still looking forward to it.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 18-March-2020

18 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: As with almost every aspect of our lives, the COVID-19 outbreak has affected my reading. I’m working from home for the foreseeable future so reading White Oleander by Janet Fitch during lunch isn’t happening. I hope to get to it again int he future, but it’s taking a break for now.
I’m back to Fingersmith by Sarah Waters full time and still loving it. I’m getting a lot more reading time in because I’m staying home more so I hope to get through this one in a reasonable time.
I picked up the audiobook for The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz just in time. My local library has closed it’s doors so I’ve got until early April before I have to worry about a due date on this one. Because I’m not driving to and from work, it might take me a while to polish this one off. We’ll see how life has changed.
I started a new audiobook on my phone to keep me entertained on runs. My husband is working from home so I’m not getting a lot of alone time to listen. So it might take me a while to get through The Girls at 17 Swann Street by Yara Zgheib. My next planned athletic event is a run (since I had two swim meets and a run canceled already). So I might as well get running a bit more.

Recently finished: Working from home left me with the chance to listen to an audiobook during lunch so I enjoyed Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and was able to wrap it up. I’m loving this series more and more and I’m so excited for the fifth book to come out later this year! Maybe I won’t take forever to get to it.
I used a slow weekend to wrap up August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones. The book club meeting for this book has been canceled so I won’t get a chance to discuss it with my group but I still wanted to wrap it up. It wasn’t my favorite but I’ll save all those thoughts for my review.

Reading Next: I should get to Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago sooner than expected with how fast I’m getting through physical books right now. I’m glad I’ve got a large store of books to keep me sane through the quarantine and craziness. I’m trying to find the silver linings.

As a reminder, I’m out of the country on vacation. I will not be replying to comments this week in order to enjoy my vacation. I’ll check periodically to approve any new poster’s comments. All reading is suspect, this post is planned well in advance.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 11-March-2020

11 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I listened to very little of Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) while I was on vacation so I’m back at it now and I’m hopeful I can finish it this week. I’ve got some more running going on than normal which gives me a good chance to catch up and finish it up.
I read very little of White Oleander by Janet Fitch, too. Maybe a chapter? Maybe? I’ll hope to get back on this one now that I’m returning to work and quiet lunches.
I’m loving Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. There was already one huge twist that I adored and I think there will be at least one more coming. I’m about 250 pages in but took a pause to read a book club book.
The book club pick is August Snow by Stephen Mack Jones. I think it will be a quick read so I’m not too concerned about getting through it before the meeting.

Recently finished: Again, nothing. I had so much fun on vacation that I forgot to read much!

Reading Next: I plan to pick up Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago as soon as I find time for a print read. I’ve put my Spanish-language read for the year off for too long!
I’ll need an audiobook next and I’ve decided on a physical audiobook of The Girl Who Takes an Eye for an Eye by David Lagercrantz. I may even start this one before I finish up with Galbraith since I usually run an eaudio along with a physical one to keep myself entertained on runs.

As a reminder, I’m out of the country on vacation. I will not be replying to comments this week in order to enjoy my vacation. I’ll check periodically to approve any new poster’s comments. All reading is suspect, this post is planned well in advance.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 4-March-2020

4 Mar

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m still enjoying Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling) and am excited this is a long haul. I haven’t had a 20+ hour audiobook in a while and I’m happy this is the one. Strike and Robin make a great pair.
I’ve read a bit of White Oleander by Janet Fitch while I’m away. It’s nice to have a book on my phone to grab snippets of a story while waiting around. But mostly, it’s been good conversation with my mom and I’m loving that.
I dove into Fingersmith by Sarah Waters on the plane! No word yet on if I’ll finish it but I’ll take a sizeable bite out of it before we get back to the states.

Recently finished: Nothing this week and no reviews posted. More to come on that when I’m back home!

Reading Next: If I finish my current read before I get home, Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago will be my next read. It’s waiting for me at home and I’ll be excited to read in another language but I didn’t think I could handle it while in a foreign country. My brain has only so much space.

As a reminder, I’m out of the country on vacation. I will not be replying to comments this week in order to enjoy my vacation. I’ll check periodically to approve any new poster’s comments. All reading is suspect, this post is planned well in advance.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 26-February-2020

26 Feb

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m in love with Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). I’ve liked all of the Galbraith novels so far but I think this one is the most engaging yet. Robin’s story is more involved now and I’m really invested in her marriage and how it’s affected by her job. I think this is a great layer that’s been added to the story and I can’t wait to see how it ends.
I haven’t gotten very far into White Oleander by Janet Fitch. Maybe I’ll get through some during my vacation but I’m not going to plan on it too much. I hope to be having so much fun that I don’t get to read outside of travel time! Fingers crossed.
I did get started with just a bit of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. I hope to concentrate on this one during my travels. It’s nice and long and I think it will keep me entertained for long flights and ferry rides. I’ll be really pleased if I finish it.

Recently finished: I rushed to finish What the Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha on Saturday. I got the review written and posted yesterday as well. I’m so glad I’ve read this book and understand the Flint water crisis better now. I live close to Flint and it’s hard to believe something so terrible could happen an hour from where I live. It’s really eye-opening. I gave the book Four out of Five Stars.

I was able to review Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley on Monday. It was an okay read, nothing special for me. I think I would have gotten more out of it if I hadn’t read two other books on writing recently. I gave it Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I plan to pick up Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago when I get back from Greece. I need to get started on my Spanish book for the year. I can’t believe I’ve put it off this long.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 19-February-2020

19 Feb

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I haven’t had as much time as I’d like for What the Eyes Don’t See by Mona Hanna-Attisha. My book club meets to talk about this on Monday and I’m not sure I’ll have it finished! I’ll have to make some more time for it this week than I normally would. It for sure is not going on vacation with me!
I started a new audiobook and, as planned, it’s Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). This picked up right where the third one left off and I’m adoring it so far. These characters are great and I’m looking forward to seeing how the tension between them can be resolved.
I had a change of heart about my ebook and decided to pick up White Oleander by Janet Fitch. I listened to the audiobook of this a while back and realized later that it was abridged. It’s been long enough that I’ve forgotten most of what I listened to and I’m ready to read the full book this time. Strap in for a long one!

Recently finished: I was close to finishing Wild Ink by Victoria Hanley! I wrapped it up during lunch on Thursday. It was an OK read, nothing great but still enjoyable. I’ll have a review for it up tomorrow. I gave the book Three out of Five Stars.
I also finished Finding Gobi by Dion Leonard. I have a few quibbles about this one and ended up giving it Three out of Five Stars even when I really enjoyed parts of it. I posted my review yesterday so please go check it out.

I also posted my review of Sarah’s Quilt by Nancy E. Turner since last week. It was a fun story, but I still had some quibbles I couldn’t look over. I ended up giving the book Three out of Five Stars.

Reading Next: I still need to pick up Cuando era puertorriqueña by Esmeralda Santiago as a print book, but it might get put off a bit. I do plan to read it this year as my Spanish-language read, though, so I won’t forget it!
This close to my trip, I think I might grab the book I’ve decided to take with me, Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. It’s a longer book, but I think it will keep me entertained for the long flights and I won’t mind leaving it behind if I finish it and want to pick up another book.


Leave a comment with your link and comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

‘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.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

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.