Thursday, April 30, 2009


Sarah Waters - 582 pps.

Perhaps this isn't the most glorious debut for the GB Club, but...oh well. Let me start with a story: On my 20th birthday, my uncle Mike gave me a paperback. He said, "Happy birthday, Daisy! I think you'll really get into this." The cover art looked pretty spiffy, and I am a sucker for historical fiction, so I figured I'd give it a try. Besides, my uncle seemed to think that I'd really enjoy it.

The novel is immediately engrossing. The voice of the first narrator (there are two) is lively and enthralling. Sue Trinder introduces herself as a clumsy, but lovable fingersmith (read: pickpocket), a poor girl raised in a family of thieves in a dodgy part of London in the mid-19th century. At seventeen, she lives for the excitement of London and helping her adoptive parents with their petty scams. When a friend asks her to help him in an elaborate scheme to cheat a rich young lady at an isolated mansion in the countryside, she has no idea what she's getting into.

Dangerous countryside

So here I am, getting completely involved in this book that, while not high literature, is a great mystery/thriller/historical fiction piece. All I could focus on for days was figuring out what the twist was going to be. No joke, ask Heathcliff. Imagine my surprise as I keep reading and reading and I slowly start to realize...this is a lesbian book. I started doing my research then on the author, Sarah Waters, and it turns out that all her books are lesbian books. One of her novels, Tipping the Velvet, is even named after a Victorian-era term for cunnilingus.

I mean, I'm cool with lesbians. I'm progressive. But my uncle did say he thought that I'd really like it. Hmm...Whatever, but finding that out definitely made me read the title in a different way.

Double entendre

Anyways, the story is excellent. The plot is very tight; it's masterfully constructed. It's filled with twists and turns, each one as surprising and satisfying as the last. Despite the expert storytelling, the novel reads as a sort of guilty pleasure, and not because of the lesbian romance. There's something more salacious than a little fingersmithin' going on here. The romance itself is very well done. It's not too sudden or too maudlin, and it's genuinely touching. The characters are compelling and odd, especially the females. Women play a much more prominent role than the men, so it's just a touch feminist. That's not to say that the males are demonized or flat, because they're just as interesting as the women except with less to say.

The only real complaint I had with Fingersmith was the change of narrator for the middle section of the book. The book is divided into three parts and the first part is told charmingly by Sue Trinder in the first person. The second part switches to the first-person perspective of Maud Lilly, the wealthy heiress Sue and her friend are trying to rob. Maud's voice is much more educated than Sue's. Because of this, Maud's voice is unfortunately also more sterile and less endearing. Maud is infinitely less likable than Sue and this section of the book drags because of it. I don't argue that the perspective change was unnecessary, but the way it's done leaves something to be desired.

It's a great book. It doesn't have much to say about life, or even really about love, but it's a fun read. The atmosphere of 19th century England is captured in an engrossing way and all the sex, lies and turnabouts keep the pages turning.

In summary: Fingersmith is no Grapes of Wrath, but it's definitely worth a read. Also my uncle thinks I'm gay. Sorry, Heathcliff.

-Daisy Buchanan