La Petite Américaine's Reviews > Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Feb 18, 11

bookshelves: kicked_ass
Read from February 13 to 18, 2011

It's not often that I like a book, so listen up and listen well.

If someone had given me the bare bones outline of Tipping the Velvet and suggest I read it, I'd have kindly told them to piss off. I have a job, a kid to raise, and an already low tolerance for contemporary fiction. A book about cross-dressing lesbians in Victorian England wouldn't spark enough interest in me to get past the title page.

Silly me. Good thing I thought that "tipping the velvet" was a reference to the theater (hint: it's not) and mistakenly believed I was buying a book about East End actresses. This mistake was a blessing, and this novel renewed my faith in modern fiction.

Tipping the Velvet carries a variety of themes that have bored me since my first Women's Studies classes in college: identity, cross-dressing, gender roles, and sexuality. Yet, alongside these nearly foreign concepts were the universal themes found in all great works of literature: passion, lust, betrayal, scandal, violence, redemption, and love. So, what did it leave me with? A book that shot a breath of life into all of those tired old themes. A book I couldn't put down, and not just for the positively raunchy (and at times touching) sex scenes that had me blushing to my hairline. No. What kept me hooked was the astoundingly good writing:

When describing being backstage at the theater after a performance, "I caught a glimpse of ladders and ropes and trailing gas-pipes; of boys in caps and aprons, wheeling baskets, manoeuvring lights. I had the sensation then - and I felt it again in the years that followed, every time I made a similar trip back stage - that I had stepped into the workings of a giant clock, stepped through the elegant casing to the dusty, greasy, restless machinery that lay, all hidden from the common eye, behind it."

When telling us about a dirty mirror, we're told that the "small looking glass [was] as cloudy and as speckled as the back of an old man's hand."

When discussing the ways of her tyrannical lover: "There is a way rich people have of saying 'What?' The word is honed, and has a point put on it; it comes out of their mouths like a dagger coming out of a sheath. That is how Diana said it now, in that dim corridor. I felt it pierce me through, and make me sag. I swallowed."

Yeah. Writing like that will keep you up at night.

The hot sex scenes? The bizarre gender roles that previously would have left me uninterested? The story itself? All just added bonuses. This chick could write about paint drying and make it fascinating. She makes cross-dressing, hooking, and other >ahem< "unmentionables" ;) seem completely exciting, alive, and blessedly normal. I love it.

Finally. A work of fiction that doesn't suck or make me feel like I've gotten dumber by the time I've finished it.

66 likes · Likeflag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Tipping the Velvet.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-18 of 18) (18 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Anne (new)

Anne This is a really sharp review but I am not convinced this book will keep me entertained for 472 pages.

La Petite Américaine Think again, Kase. The sheer audacity of it will keep the pages turning. Holy hell, there's stuff in this book that would make Ron Jeremy blush.

message 3: by Anne (new)

Anne Well since you were so right about that garbage the Kite Runner, I will read this one and get back to you.

La Petite Américaine DO read this book. Any author that can make lesbian raunch-fests, kinda-sorta-but-not-really homosexual prostitution, and chick on chick love scenes all seem like normal, natural progressions in a person's quest for happiness -- well, that's a DAMN good writer.

message 5: by Velvetink (new)

Velvetink The tv series was interesting:

Kathrina This is one of my fundamental best reads ever. So glad you loved it, too.

La Petite Américaine You haven't read it yet, Elizabeth?? I think you'd like it.

message 8: by Veronica (new)

Veronica I haven't read this one yet. But Sarah Waters is a very, very good writer. Try The Night Watch -- I think you'd really like that too. I also enjoyed The Little Stranger -- great if you like books with unreliable narrators!

La Petite Américaine @Elizabeth and Veronica: Well, we were all misled you see. This isn't about exploring gender's about steamy, ruanchy, fucked up sex, chicks cross-dressing and hooking, and finding true love in the Victorian era. This book KICKED ASS. Totally reminded me of Rebecca by du Maurier at times, at other times it was reminiscent of Dickens or Defoe, then other times it was derived from the Brontes. AWESOME book.
@Veronica: I downloaded "Affinity" and now I'm hooked, I have a feeling I'll be reading all of her books...

La Petite Américaine by the way, what book should I read next to review on goodreads? I can't just read all Sarah Waters....that would make life too perfect. ;)

message 11: by Veronica (new)

Veronica well, I've just finished and enjoyed The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and I see from your bio that you like non-fiction more than fiction. Would be a complete change from Sarah Waters! I have her Fingersmith on my TBR shelf, BTW.

La Petite Américaine I have a feeling too much Sarah Waters in a short time period could turn me weird...I'd start speaking in Victorian English and all that. :)

Kathrina I think The Escape Artist: A Novel might be comparable. Not quite as lush, but plenty of kink with a dollop of nutritional history.

message 14: by Nicole (new)

Nicole Great review, I'll read it. Check out Night Watch sometime as I mentioned, pretty good. Definitely want to read Henrietta Lacks, heard some great reviews of it.

message 15: by Kim (new)

Kim Fingersmith was the best book I read last year. After reading your review, I'll definitely be reading Tipping the Velvet soon.

La Petite Américaine Kim wrote: "Fingersmith was the best book I read last year. After reading your review, I'll definitely be reading Tipping the Velvet soon."

That's it, I'm going to get Fingersmith today.

message 17: by Kim (new)

Kim Can't wait to read your review of Fingersmith.

La Petite Américaine You're too kind. I'll download the book to kindle today.

back to top