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The Crimson Petal and the White

3.89  ·  Rating details ·  35,896 ratings  ·  3,147 reviews
Sugar, 19, prostitute in Victorian London, yearns for a better life. From brutal brothel-keeper Mrs Castaway, she ascends in society. Affections of self-involved perfume magnate William Rackham soon smells like love. Her social rise attracts preening socialites, drunken journalists, untrustworthy servants, vile guttersnipes, and whores of all kinds.
Paperback, 835 pages
Published September 11th 2003 by Canongate Books (first published 2002)
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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 worr…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)

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Average rating 3.89  · 
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 ·  35,896 ratings  ·  3,147 reviews


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Steve
Jan 17, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 12, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: readandreviewed
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
Sep 27, 2007 rated it it was amazing
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
Emily
Jun 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Kelly
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
...more
Candi
"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."

This opening from an omniscient narrator brings the reader directly into the story and on a journey to Vict
...more
Rick Riordan
Feb 12, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Joe Valdez
Jul 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction-general
The Crimson Petal and the White is the 2002 novel by Michel Faber, a resplendent eight-hundred fifty page saga that chronicles the rise of an exceptionally clever London prostitute known as "Sugar" in 1874, her fall from grace the following year and how she impacts a multitude of characters along the way. That story isn't at all complex and given the political machinations that existed in high and low society of Victorian England, the secrets between powerful men and their cunning mistresses, as ...more
Cecily
"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.

CHARACTERS

The central character is Sugar, a young prostitute who is uncommonly i
...more
Michael
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
Priya
May 04, 2008 rated it did not like it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Martine
Feb 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Vanessa
Jan 04, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I made it! Okay, so I finished it a couple of days late, but I finished up my 2016 TBR by finally reading The Crimson Petal and the White. As I wanted to read Michel Faber's main novels in order, this has been on the cards for me ever since I read Under the Skin back in the summer of 2015. I kept putting it off though, partly for its length, and partly because I was determined to read it in the autumn/winter months. I'm glad that I finally got to it though, because it was definitely worth the wa ...more
Laurie Neighbors
Aug 16, 2007 added it
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
...more
Siria
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
...more
Trevor
Sep 10, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literature
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
Collin
Apr 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
A wonderful review just reminded me how much I enjoyed this book and that I did write a review which disappeared along with my account when it was hacked.

Now you would think that, having just said I enjoyed the book, I would be able to remember the review but it was a couple of years ago now.

Anyway, I remember that, the narrative, while still being wonderful, took second place to the amazingly rich characters that populated it. The book also had that beautiful Dickensian aura about it There is j
...more
Helene Jeppesen
May 13, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
...more
Gabrielle
I have a weakness for Victoriana, even the faux Victoriana like Sarah Waters, and who doesn't love a good prostitute story? Many Goodreads friends reviewed "The Crimson Petal and the White" very highly, so when I spotted it at my favorite used book store, I grabbed it immediately.

This book had me, hook, line and sinker, after just a couple of lines. The enthralling tone all but hypnotized me and I spent the whole long Easter weekend with my nose buried in Faber's novel. The slightly sarcastic om
...more
Caro the Helmet Lady
I promised no spoilers to Cypt. So without any spoilers I can say that this huge book (I had an edition with 950 thin paper pages!!) was devoured by me very fast, surprisingly even to myself, because action wasn't the fastest, characters not the loveliest and nothing new to Victorian London was actually added, in my opinion. Yet Michel Faber has this way of writing with which he conjures you, gently grabs by the hand and then leads you through not the most pleasant places. More like really unple ...more
Alex
Jan 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
Here's a sprawling behemoth of a love letter to Victorian novels. Like Sarah Waters' Tipping the Velvet and John Fowles' The French Lieutenant's Woman, it gets a charge out of paying homage to Victorian tropes while undermining them: Victorian novels were famously prudish, so Faber gives us descriptions of the toxic prophylactic methods of Victorian prostitutes. This is all good fun.

The gothic and sensation genres are Faber's main touchstones here. Sugar's stint as an infiltrating governess reca
...more
Liz
Jul 21, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
...more
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
El
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
[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.

Or
...more
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
...more
B the BookAddict
Sep 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Historical Fiction Readers
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: Sally Howes
Shelves: hist-fiction

Rather like an expose on life in 1870s England; it is a sumptuous, richly textured and deeply satisfying novel. A stonkingly good read. 4.75★
Cher
Dec 24, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 stars - It was really good.

The way Faber wrote this novel reminded me of a Dickens’ tale – atmospheric with memorable, flawed characters and an underlying examination of the societal class divides. Some parts were more interesting than others and at 900 pages it felt a bit long in the tooth (also reminiscent of Dickens). I personally preferred his other novel, The Book of Strange New Things, to this one, though both were satisfying worthy reads.

-------------------------------------------
Fav
...more
Olivier Delaye
Jun 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
A wonderful trip back in time to Victorian London is what The Crimson Petal and the White is to me, a slice of life about a young prostitute named Sugar whose determination to pull herself out of the gutter and rise in society embodies in itself the very definition of rags-to-riches. I was hooked from the beginning, and while this book is positively huge, it also possesses that page-turning quality which will surely keep you awake many a sleepless night. I only found the ending somewhat wanting, ...more
Beth
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
...more
Bloodorange
I read this books a few months before joining GR, and shelved it as one of my first books, giving it five stars. I remember it was after I went back to work after the maternity leave, and it was still dark and wintery outside, and my child must have been around eight months, and I remember reading this over a weekend, Friday to Sunday night, lying across our double bed and only leaving the bedroom and the book when I absolutely had to.

I loved this book. It sucked me in, fed me details I sometim
...more
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1,570 followers
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
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