Sarah Edwina Rose's Reviews > The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
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Jan 27, 09

Read in September, 2008

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 to that 2008 London.

Faber's novel is more than 800 pages long, and even in paperback weighs the same as a small child (so I'd imagine), however I found myself lugging it to work in my poor straining bag because a tube journey would not do without an update.

The novel is written in third person and cleverly casts the reader themselves as a physical character in Victorian London. Faber guides the time traveler, advising whom to follow along the dark and dirty streets. This is just one technical aspect that involves you in the world; you are made to realise that the words in the book are telling just one narrative within a world that has millions.

Sugar is perhaps the main character; working as a prostitute she escapes working into the night on a fantasy novel, a novel in which she brutally murders her male customers. Visited by William Rackham a successful business man with an insane wife, she begins her journey.

It is not my aim to relay the plot, it is an intricately woven web that requires all physical 800 pages. I simply wish to state my admiration of this modern author writing about Victorian London. As a man unbound by Victorian sexual repression and literary censorship, does this book written in the 21st Century tell us more about the nineteenth century than Dickens could? Now there's a question for a dissertation.

Perhaps it doesn't matter. Perhaps all that matters it the effect a book has upon one, fact or fiction? As I closed this book for the final time, digesting the unsatisfying yet most satisfying ending I have ever encountered, I felt a loss; Faber's greatest achievement is undoubtedly the way the characters outlive the paper on which they are created. In a dull moment I still muse upon the fate of Sugar.

It is books like this that remind one that writing is not simply placing signified meaning onto a blank sheet. Yes words are mundane tools of communication, but if used by someone who understands they can transcend their basic purpose and origin.
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