Elaine's Reviews > Fingersmith

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
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Mar 03, 12

bookshelves: ebooks
Read in February, 2012

A den of thieves, a creepy manse, evil masters, damsels in distress, evil machinations by an evil mastermind. You will never guess who. In fact, you'll never guess what will happen until it happens. It's Dickensian with Gothic overtones. 19th century London? It must be Dickensian, and some of it is. Orphaned children trained in all of the arts of swindling and living in the thiefmaster's house, that's Dickens. So is the child, raised as a thief but is later found out to be the child of a highborn lady.

When the scene changes to the Great House, glimmers of Gothic novels make you suspect a love story in the offing. I know I began
to look for the likely lover. But, I was fooled. A Gothic novel it isn't , just as it isn't a reworking of Dickens.


It has long seemed to me that many novels convoluted by plot twists aren't very well written and have little character development. Sarah Waters surprised me. Her prose is first rate. This was up for a Man Booker award. Some of her characters are grotesque, but she makes you suspend disbelief and think of them as real. Other characters, the ones we root for at the end, are superbly drawn.

Waters immersed herself in British history of the 19th century. Her descriptions of madhouses are dead on, both in their function of locking up unwanted wives and sisters and in the way patients were treated. Up until the 20th century, men could incarcerate their wives or other female relatives on the strength of their words, and nobody but the man could let them free. No less a personage than T.S. Eliot locked up his wife for life. At least he did stick her into an attractive crazy house.

As you read this, make no conclusions about the characters or the plot. Waters will dupe you at every turn, and she'll do it in elegant prose.



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message 1: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Good review - makes me want to read the book even though I was disappointed by the only Sarah Waters book I read so far, The Little Stranger.


Elaine I haven't read The Little Stranger, so I can't comment, but I often have the experience of liking one book by an author and then not liking another. If you liked the review, however, it would be nice if you clicked the Like option. But, it's ok if you don't.


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