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The Crimson Petal and the White

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  25,796 ratings  ·  2,284 reviews
Sugar, an alluring, nineteen-year-old prostitute in the brothel of the peculiar Mrs Castaway, yearns for a better life. And when she is visited by William Rackham, the somewhat reluctant heir to Rackham Perfumeries, she begins an ascent through the strata of 1870's London society that offers us intimacy with a host of loveable, maddening and superbly realised characters.

Paperback, 833 pages
Published 2003 by Canongate (first published 2002)
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Laura I hear that Amy! It is a really long book, but I must tell you that unlike many books this long that drag on, this one is interesting to the end. I…moreI hear that Amy! It is a really long book, but I must tell you that unlike many books this long that drag on, this one is interesting to the end. I agree that it was hard to get into, the themes are a little soul crushing but the beauty of Faber's writing is a treat. Just take it slow, and read it from time to time, when you can fit it in with your other reading. (less)
Dianne Bartolotta The novel refers to it often. She had psoriasis and it bothered her constantly. Her lips were always peeling and she often pulled the skin off or…moreThe novel refers to it often. She had psoriasis and it bothered her constantly. Her lips were always peeling and she often pulled the skin off or worried the skin with her teeth. No illness, just a skin condition. Redheads often have skin sensitivities. William sold a face cream that she used when he would give it to her for the patches. I didn't know it was a miniseries and will have to try and find it in the US.(less)

Community Reviews

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A word of warning, my friends: I’ll be giving this the hard sell. To begin, please create in your mind’s eye (and ear) the most interesting tour guide imaginable. He knows all about Victorian England – its people, its paradoxes – and what’s more, he knows what you don’t know but would find fascinating. Transitions back and forth between our modern perspectives and their older, more circumscribed ones are virtually seamless. He’s wise about people, too, their quirks and motivations, independent o ...more
Teresa Jusino
I've been of the mind recently that there is something slightly worse than bad. And that is: almost. Bad, one can deal with. It's easily classifiable, and can be (to paraphrase Susan Orlean in The Orchid Thief) "whittled down to a more manageable size." Almost is harder. Almost teases you with what could have been, only to disappoint you with what is. Almost is wasted potential. Almost lingers inside you like a dust bunny under a bed in a clean room. The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Fab ...more
Paul Bryant
You know in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind they've invented this brilliant device for erasing specific memories and the whole plot revolves around people who meet each other after they've had their memories of each other already erased, so they re-meet and re-love and it's all poignant and kind of whoah and oops I kind of gave the plot away - well, you should have seen it by now, come on, it's years old. Anyway, I'd love that particular invention to be true true true so that I could hustl ...more
If you don't like reading about sex, don't read this book. And when I say sex, I don't necessarily mean the pleasant kind of reading about sex, or the titillating kind of reading about sex. I mean, there are plenty of gory details in here about the everyday lives of Victorian women and prostitutes. And many of them aren't pretty.
The thing that fascinates and attracts me to this book is that it could only take place in Victorian London, and yet it could only have been written in the modern era. D
Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you've read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether..."

Thus does Faber begin his beguiling spell of a novel, the Crimson Petal and the White. He sets the bar rat
Rick Riordan
Adult historical fiction. (Very adult) After enjoying Faber's most recent novel, The Book of Strange New Things, I decided to try this -- his earlier novel set in 1870s England. I have to admire someone who can evoke science fiction worlds and Victorian London with equal aplomb. The surety with which Faber resurrects the world of the 1870s is astounding. You will feel like you are there -- gritty streets, coal-blackened slums, high society balls and all. This is basically the story of a young pr ...more
"Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them." From that captivating opening (echoed several times later on), you are a voyeur, on an extraordinarily vivid journey. I was enthralled from the start, raced through the 800+ pages at every opportunity, and remain in awe of the way the story is told. Regularly addressing the reader in conspiratorial tones, lends an air of intimacy that suits the subject.


The central character is Sugar, a young prostitute who is uncommonly i
I was totally captivated by this novel about class differences and sexual mores of late Victorian London--its rich and lively writing, its cast of engaging characters, and a plot that wavers among entertaining romp, serious social commentary, and tragedy. A key device is an omniscient narrator who speaks directly to the modern reader, more in the beginning but also at turning points in the long story. Rather than pulling you out of participation in the story, the approach works well to stoke com ...more
Jul 03, 2008 Martine rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who believe the journey is more important than the destination
If I had to give a one-word response to the big, sprawling monster of a faux-Victorian novel that is The Crimson Petal and the White, it would be 'WOW'. (With capitals. Yes.) At 895 pages, it's a big book, and it's not without its flaws, but such is the quality of the writing, the characterisation and the staggering amount of research that went into it that I was enthralled from beginning to end and stayed up until 4am on a weekday night to be able to read the last four hundred pages. I don't re ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Laurie Neighbors
Aug 16, 2007 Laurie Neighbors rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: shut-ins
Okay, I read this book. I read every page because, you know, Michel Faber, right? I mean, his prior work was not without merit.

What the hell was he thinking, though, when he wrote this book? Was he aiming for mediocre language and predictable plot with lots of crusty, nasty Victorian sex? Cause if so, bravo!

Still, I did read it all the way through. So what does that say about ME? I think what it says about me was that I hang in, even against my better judgment. I read all the way through becaus
Enjoyable and rather compulsively readable, but not particularly impressive, The Crimson Petal and the White is essentially an 18 rated version of Dickens—a cautionary tale set in Victorian London, but with more mention of prostitutes, erections and human excretions than you could shake a reasonably sized stick at.

The prose is quite solid, though it feels a little padded in places, particularly in regards to the Henry Rackham/Emmeline Fox subplot; similarly, the narrative flows well, though I wo
In an interview, The Crimson Petal and White’s author, Michael Faber says: “I use the metaphor of a novel being like a prostitute, promising the reader a good time, promising intimacy and companionship”.

If this is the case, boy did I feel like I got a good “fuck” for my moneys worth. At 850+ pages, I thought this tome of a novel was magnificent.

Faber led me by the hand, and brought me to Victorian London, where I fell in and out of love with the characters. The robust writing and detailed desc
When this book started I thought that it was going to be quite a different kind of novel. I thought it was going to be a bit like Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller – a series of beginnings tripping over one another, but never getting further on than that. I thought that this would be a kind of ‘day in the life’ of Victorian London – one seen through the eyes of prostitutes and their clients. What is it, I wonder, that has us so fascinated by Victorian prostitutes? Is it just that Vict ...more
helen the bookowl
Wow, that ending! After having read so many pages and gone through such an immense journey, I do feel kind of cheated by that ending :)
Nevertheless, I absolutely loved this book and its characters. I loved how it portrays life in Victorian London so realistically and brutally, and I really liked how Michel Faber leaves nothing to the reader's imagination when it comes to the prostitutes and their work.
Yes, this book is about prostitutes and in particular about Sugar and her rises and falls in l
Jennifer (aka EM)
Fantastic. The perfect book to end a great year of reads.

Come for the sexy story, stay for the character portraits and technique. There are lots of good reviews of this (see Kelly's, Paul's, Cecily's, Trevor's, and Simon's) - lots of them focus on the length (ho, ho, ho), so besides the rampant double entendres that popped up everywhere, I’ll just tell you a dozen more things that I *loved* about TCP:

1. The narrator: without him/it, the ending would have been unthinkable. And the endin
Beth F.
Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them. This city I am bringing you to is vast and intricate, and you have not been here before. You may imagine, from other stories you've read, that you know it well, but those stories flattered you, welcoming you as a friend, treating you as if you belonged. The truth is that you are an alien from another time and place altogether...

What a beginning! I passed my copy on after I originally read this in 2005. I gave it to my mom who gave it
Sally Howes
THE CRIMSON PETAL AND THE WHITE both is and is not a book about sex. Yes, it follows the life of Sugar, an unusually talented (in more ways than one) whore in Victorian London, but its sex scenes are brief, perfunctory, and relatively infrequent considering the subject matter. If you're looking for a Victorian-era FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, look elsewhere, you won't find it here. What you will find is a uniquely brilliant, unabashedly feminist character study of some memorable examples of women and m ...more
[leggere con la giusta intonazione prego, non facciamo gli altoparlanti]

Faber, oltre ad avere un'esilarante antipatia per il genere maschile, ha anche il sacro fuoco della narrazione che gli circola a go-go in tutto l'organismo. E infatti adotta quel mezzo quasi sleale, affabulante, che è il considerarti come effettivo lettore, non semplicemente la finestra su cui poggiare i gomiti. Assomiglia molto alla rottura della quarta parete.

"Attento. Tieni la testa
Gary  the Bookworm
This book has captured the hearts and minds of readers and it has been acclaimed as the book Charles Dickens should have written. As valid a comparison as that may be, it also reminds me of novels written by the Toms-Hardy, Wolfe, and especially that old voyeur, Peeping. Okay Peeping Tom wasn't a writer but according to the legend he gawked at Godiva as she preened in all her naked glory. Faber invites us to indulge our own voyeuristic fantasies as he deconstructs the rigid mores of Victorian so ...more
So I thought this book had a lot of potential but it completely dissappointed me. I thought at the end it would bring all the 800ish pages but it DID NOT. It just ends and I was so shocked and angry with myself that I actually spent all that time reading this lame ending book.

I loved the way they narrator of the story took us with him/her through the story and I was really sad when that character just disappeared from the storyline. I enjoyed having at all-knowing eye lead me to next plot. So I
Alive or dead, this child is doomed: it's not possible to save anyone in this world, except oneself;

This is a big book and took me quite a while to read, but I was thoroughly captivated by everything in this book:
1. All the characters will stay with me for a very long time, even the ones only mentioned once or twice.
2. The setting, Victorian England, was so vividly described I felt like I was walking the streets and experiencing all the sights firsthand.
3. Although it took me a chapter or two t
[February 22, 2014] I have just finished watching all four discs of the BBC miniseries, the same one that I referenced in this book review a couple years ago, stating that the miniseries couldn't be as good as the book. I am so full of shit. It could be as good as the book. I still want everyone to read the book, but the miniseries captures the story so well and so faithfully; I found myself falling in love with the story all over again. The actors were fantastic, right down to little Sophie.

Questo libro l’ho pescato a caso, perché nulla conoscevo e, a tutt’oggi, nulla conosco del suo autore, tranne le poche notizie riportate in quarta di copertina: è nato in Olanda nel 1960, ma cresciuto in Australia e, dal 1993, vive in Scozia. Queste 985 pagine sono il frutto di 20 anni di ricerche. Accidenti!, direte voi (l’ho detto anch’io, anzi, l’ho solo pensato, perché non è che potessi mettermi a esclamare “accidenti” nel bel mezzo di una libreria … ).

Ma 20 anni di ricerche su cosa? Sul per
This novel transported me to the darkest dirtiest corners and sewers of London in the 1860's. The heroine of this novel is the brilliant jewel, Sugar. Not only is she one of the most sought after prostitutes on Church Lane, but she's smart and believe it or not, the only adult character in the book who is sincerely virtuous. Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Her john, William, is a ne'er do well, who aided by Sugar, is able to turn his life around and grow the family soap and perfume business. Unfortunately, there's not enough
Sarah Edwina Rose
As a former English Literature student, I have been around the literary block. I have delved into the Medieval ramblings of priests, danced with Milton's devil, analysed King Lear's madness, cried with Keats and romanced with Jane Austen.

Becoming somewhat snobby about literature, you do not expect to pick something from a promotion table in Boarders and be inspired. Yet the mindless spending of an ancient book voucher gave me a unfailing companion, and allowed me to dwell in a time alternative t
It’s not often a book comes along, that when you close the final pages you already miss the characters. Their ups and downs have become your life as you go into the early hours with them every night. Well, this is one of those books, a book with amazing characters that keep you guessing til the last page. There’s Sugar the well read prostitute, Agnes the beautiful Victorian wife teetering on the brink of madness, and Emmeline.Fox the campaigner whose modern views ostracize her from society.In th ...more
I have to give it two stars because I really did care about a small child and her governess, and so I had to finish it. I enjoyed the way he handled the narration/POV.

I was going to write a long pro and con review but I've decided not to. Instead, I'd like to say a few things that might save similar readers the trouble of spending many hours with this very long book. If you dislike the c word (think crude sexual term), if it and the aura surrounding that word bug you, then this book will bug yo
When I first read this, I didn't realize how good it was. On a superficial level, yeah -- it earned 4 stars & a place on my keeper shelf, so it made an impression that way. But after 7+ years & a crop of literary historicals that include similar motifs, Crimson Petal always comes to mind when pressed to list my favorite neo-Victorian novels. It's a high-class read that's comfortable with a dank underbelly -- and that, dear reader, is a rarity in this era when (most) mainstream fiction is ...more
Whew, I truly wanted to give this a three star as many friends rated it highly and sincerely enjoyed it. Sadly, I'm sure I will never be numbered amongst them.

This is like Dickens (not a favorite either- I must admit) gone pornographic and meanly foul. Keeping the stereotypes, and losing the "lesson learned from this episode" for virtue's sake. Any empathy I had for Sophie or Sugar got buried in over word stench. Any connection to the period deluged by 21st century snide of snark. The writing wa
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Michel Faber (born 13 April 1960) is a Dutch writer of English-language fiction.

Faber was born in The Hague, The Netherlands. He and his parents emigrated to Australia in 1967. He attended primary and secondary school in the Melbourne suburbs of Boronia and Bayswater, then attended the University Of Melbourne, studying Dutch, Philosophy, Rhetoric, English Language (a course involving translation a
More about Michel Faber...

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“A single day spent doing things which fail to nourish the soul is a day stolen, mutilated, and discarded in the gutter of destiny.” 107 likes
“Participating in Society in not a thing one can do naturally; one has to rehearse for it.” 58 likes
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