Cathleen's Reviews > Tipping the Velvet

Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
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's review
Dec 28, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: dykealicious, victorian
Read from December 11 to 28, 2011

I'm pretty sure I've never read a story with so much trembling, and that is saying a lot given my love of nineteenth-century novels. Good grief. There was trembling from fear, from sexual anticipation, from cold, from sadness. Smell some bacon? Tremble. See an old lover? Tremble. Thinking of dipping fingers into a warm vulva? Tremble. Notice some lint on one's jacket? Tremble. Expecting rain tomorrow? You know the drill. Okay, so I'm exaggerating, but it was too much and over the top even for a novel set in Victorian London.

I also wanted to like the protagonist Nancy more than I did. She was annoying and impetuous and too much like a lot of anti-intellectual butch lesbians I've known. My complaint is the unfair criticism I so often have for lesbian protagonists in films -- she isn't everything I want her to be. I know it is an unjust protest, but I just can't help it. There are so few lesbians in literature and film that I want the ones there to be likable and interesting and smart and kind. I know, I know, it isn't possible, but I'm not claiming to be rational about this. There were times when I really felt for Nancy, but other times I wanted to slap her out of her self-absorption or her stupidity the way tv characters slap one another out of states of panic during earthquakes or tornadoes. I'm being mean to poor Nancy, though. Ultimately, I was rooting for her.

I did really appreciate Waters's attention to detail. The novel is true to its period setting, and though I wondered about a couple of details, I never thought "x or z couldn't possibly have been true in 1890s England." The rigorous research really pays off. I couldn't help, though, wishing for footnotes to assuage the nagging questions in my head. Of course, I'm probably the ONLY person who'd want such a thing in a book like this. I just found myself wanting to know how Waters knew certain things or whether particular elements were purely fictional. I couldn't stop wondering, for example, about brooches made from "quim hair." I know that jewelry made from hair was popular during the Victorian period, but pubic hair? Could it be? I really want to know. Though they couldn't answer all of my questions, I found the bookmarks notes at Book Drum to be really useful and interesting. Without it, the reference to the boy in the boat would have been totally lost on me. There is even an illustration of the titular phrase.

Overall, Tipping the Velvet was good. It just wasn't great. I didn't love it the way I wanted to. I thought lesbians + nineteenth century would = nirvana, but it didn't happen. It kept my interest, but I wasn't compelled to keep reading, and there were only a couple of times when I minded being interrupted while reading.

Finally, publishers, I'm pleading with you to find more careful copy editors. My Riverhead paperback edition was littered with typos.
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Comments (showing 1-6 of 6) (6 new)

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Rebecca Oh I am so excited to hear what you think of this book!!!

Cathleen :) I'm such a slow reader… I might keep you waiting a while! So far so good, though.

Rebecca It took me awhile too, but the plot is so good at times that you won't be able to put it down. :)

message 4: by jo (new) - rated it 2 stars

jo you know, it's her first novel. one wants to be forgiving. i'm in the middle of watching the two-part miniseries based on waters' Fingersmith and i must say it's pretty awesome.

Rebecca Aw, I found myself rooting for you to like it more too! But, as always, your review is on point. (I, too, wished for footnotes, though! You're not the only Victorian history-obsessed nerd out there, haha.) What did you think of the ending? That bothered me more than anything in the book.

Arukiyomi thanks for the ref to Book Drum... I didn't know it existed before you referred to it.

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