2 April 2018

Fingersmith / Sarah Waters

     "Don't leave me, Sue!" she whispered. "I'm afraid of my own dreaming."
     Her breath was sweet. Her hands and arms were warm. Her face was smooth as ivory or alabaster. In a few weeks' time, I thought — if our plot worked — she would be lying in the bed of a madhouse. Who would there be to be kind to her, then?

How many times can a novel stomp on your heart? I lost count while reading Fingersmith...

Set in 19th century England, it tells the entwines stories of two very different young women: Sue, an illiterate orphan who, though coddled, grew up amongst thieves and receivers of stolen goods in a London slum; and Maud, who had a stern upbringing among her authoritarian uncle's books in a decrepit, isolated house. They find themselves trapped in a devilish plot to steal an inheritance, seemingly powerless in the face of terrible hardships... but everyone has underestimated them.

Gritty, wonderfully tactile and psychologically complex, this novel leads us into territories little explored, from the shallower layers of the underworld to the seamy underside of  literature and to the very brink of madness, witnessing acts of profound hatred and love along the way. Since Sue and Maud each give us their own account of events, we become intimately acquainted with their thoughts, emotions and motivations, providing us with fascinating, unconventional points of view from which to watch as they fight tooth and nail. Both are flawed but never seek to conceal that fact by putting themselves in the best light, making for uncomfortably frank reading at times.

In this rollicking tale of two girls vs. the world, Sarah Waters introduces us to characters drawn with such nuance that she succeeds in making us both despise and empathise with even the most initially contemptuous ones. Fingersmith could be called Dickensian in its portrayal of high and low classes and its many twists and turns — but it's Dickens plus sex and minus the humour.

This was a very intense read from beginning to end. I can't recall the last time a book made my heart pump this hard and had me saying "Oh no, oh no!" so often. However, please be warned: if profanity and frank discussion of sexual acts bother you, then perhaps you should skip this one.

I borrowed this book from my library network through ILL.

Rating: ****½

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