Author: Sarah Waters
Published: 2002 Pages: 582
Genre: Literary Fiction
Fingersmith begins with a poor orphan, Susan Trinder, who has been taken under the wing of a band of thieves after her mother was hung for murder when she was an infant. When Susan is around seventeen years of age, her adoptive mother Mrs. Sucksby agrees to let her partake in plot to deceive an unsuspecting and rather innocent woman out of her inheritance. Gentleman, the head of the plot will woo and marry Maud Lilly, who is also orphaned and lives a sheltered life with her uncle, and then commit her into an asylum while Susan and Gentleman make off with a small fortune.
I finished this book over a week ago and have since been trying to formulate my thoughts in a coherent fashion. While I really liked this book a lot I keep wanting to focus on some of my more negative feelings. I think those feelings come, though, from knowing too much about the book before going into it. Everyone has raved about this book--calling it the best plot ever devised and twists and turns that will cause your head to spin. Yes, both of those things carry weight, but knowing that going into the book caused me to anticipate too much and so for the final third of the book I felt a little let down. This is why I don't read plot summaries--the less I know about a book going into my reading, the better the outcome for me.
All that said, let's get on to the good bits. I loved the atmosphere Waters created in this book. It is foggy and gritty and seedy and every bit the Victorian London Dickens would have written. There are pickpockets and colorful characters. Mrs. Sucksby is quite the lady (rolls eyes) and Gentleman--well, don't let the name fool you. My favorite characters, though, are Susan and Maud. In many ways the two are perfect companion characters, each highlighting the characteristics of the other in their many differences. The book switches between the two girls' perspectives and so the reader gets a clear look into the motives and emotions of each. I love perspective and point of view and Waters did an amazing job creating a distinct voice for Susan and Maud.
And then there is the writing. For me Waters' writing snuck up on me--in many ways it is simple and nothing to shout about, but the way that she turns a phrase is quite beautiful. She writes with passion and breathes life into her characters. I don't need a lot of dialogue in the books that I read, mostly because I feel like dialogue is often forced, but Waters hits the language of the characters dead on. Their conversations are realistic and she uses this as well as the characters' inner thoughts to show what is going on--she lets her characters develop the book rather than laying it all out by herself. Does this make sense? Some authors just tell you, but Waters shows. It makes sense to me. :P
But an example--taken from the second half of the book narrated by Maud:
"I think she must see it [desire]. Now he has named it, I think it must colour me--I think it must mark me crimson, like paint marks the hot red points, the lips and gashes and bare whipped limbs, of my uncle's portraits. I am afraid, that night, to undress before her. I am afraid to lie at her side. I am afraid to sleep. I am afraid I will dream of her. I am afraid that in dreaming, I will turn and touch her..." (293).I love the parallelisms in her writing, but more than that the passion. And let me tell you this book is passionate! Nymeth gave this book the Most Beautiful Sex Scene Award and I'm going to have to agree with her completely. Oh my goodness. Prudes don't fear--there is nothing terribly graphic about this book nor the sex scenes. There is a bit of language, but it's sparse and not overly offensive. And more than anything, this book is the epitome of a page turner. Even at 582 pages long this book is a fairly quick read and a rollercoaster of a ride.
One more bit that made me chuckle then be grateful of times changed:
"Fancies, Mrs. Rivers. If you might only hear yourself! Terrible plots? Laughing villains? Stolen fortunes and girls made out to be mad? The stuff of lurid fiction! We have a name for your disease. We call it a hyper-aesthetic one. You have been encouraged to over-indulge yourself in literature; and have inflamed your organs of fancy." "Inflamed?" [Maud] said. "Over-indulge? Literature?" "You have read too many books" (447).Ok, I guess that ended up much better than I thought it would. I do really recommend this book. Besides--everyone else is reading it, why shouldn't you? Even a week and a half after finishing I'm still mulling over the events and characters of this book!