The Crimson Petal and the White is an intimate, sprawling (830pgs) modern take on a Victorian novel. A subversion of the archetypal Dickens rags-to-riThe Crimson Petal and the White is an intimate, sprawling (830pgs) modern take on a Victorian novel. A subversion of the archetypal Dickens rags-to-riches story. Our heroine, a young prostitute named Sugar, lives by her wits and longs to break free of her poverty and her ogress mother and madame, Mrs Castaway. In William Rackham - heir to a perfume and soap fortune - she think she's found her saviour. He is infatuated with her and makes her his mistress and then his daughter's governess, but as she moves into a higher social strata she finds herself stifled and controlled in different ways by William and male Victorian society.
Tonally and stylistically the book really captures the flavour of the Victorian novel, but with an added knowing and arch twist: we are modern readers being guided by our narrator round this alien world. Thus we can go to places the Victorian novel never dared go, and our narrator can buttonhole us, whispering insincerities and highlighting the hypocrisy of the characters: much like Sugar and the prostitutes do in the story.
I love the fact that Sugar is a distinctly un-Dickensian young woman, in a Dickensian story. She is clever, witty, bawdy, sexual, coarse, feminist, takes action - all the things a pure Dicknesian Heroine like Esther Summerson or Florence Dombey would never do. Even Agnes – William's wife and more of a Victorian gothic heroine – crazy and pining away in her upstairs bedroom - is strong willed and unique in her 'craziness' which is undercut by the fact we the readers know something about her that the characters do not.
(view spoiler)[ What I love the most is the gradual mirroring of Agnes and Sugars fates. Despite their different characters their stories take on many parallels as they are both forced to suffer under the control of William Rackham the privileged Victorian male. And it is Sugar's wits and compassion that saves herself and both Agnes and Sophie. At least, that's how I saw the ending. (hide spoiler)]
In the end I thought it was a great take on a Victorian novel, full of interesting women, unique characters trying to survive their imprisoning roles in a man's world.
Whatever I say bout this book I don't think will come close to covering it. A holocaust memoir, that is less about heroes and villains and drama and tWhatever I say bout this book I don't think will come close to covering it. A holocaust memoir, that is less about heroes and villains and drama and tragedy, and more about the will to survive. The detached style of the writing and the grey morality of some of the characters in the camp, including, at moments, the narrator, just point up the siege mentality, and the desperate nature of the situation - how one must ruthlessly put ones own well being first in a fight through every day, or shut down the bigger reality of the situation, in order to survive. ...more
The Chemistry of Tears is the story of an horologist, Catherine Gehrig, who works in a small London museum. Her lover, Matthew, one of the museum otheThe Chemistry of Tears is the story of an horologist, Catherine Gehrig, who works in a small London museum. Her lover, Matthew, one of the museum other curators, has just died suddenly and she is distraught. To take her mind off her grief her boss gives her a new job, to restore a mysterious automaton, which may or may not be a replica of Vaucanson's Duck. It arrives in her studio in eight gigantic tea-chests and amongst the myriad of broken parts she finds the diaries of its former owner, a Victorian Lord named Henry Brandling. Henry Brandlings son is dying of consumption and he has promised to build the boy an automaton. So he sets out on a journey to the Black Forests of Germany in pursuit of this goal. As the story goes on the repair of the automaton and also its creation run in tandem and, reading about the people who made the creature, Catherine begins to feel more and more connected with them.
I listened to this as an audiobook and the performances of the two actors as the two narrators was very good. The worst thing I can say about this book is that I don't particularly like the title: The Chemistry of Tears. I can see how it subtly relates to the content and it is explained in the book, but it also reminded me of this fun article in the Guardian about how book titles in literary fiction are somewhat interchangeable... http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/books...
Peter Carey has a beautiful turn of phrase and all the characters, especially the German clockmaker and his son, are brilliantly drawn. The story itself is a little slight and I wanted things to develop with a few exciting sub-plots, and more of an ending, but really it is not that kind of book. Despite its fairy tale feel it stays in the realms of literary fiction and doesn't stray at all into fantasy and in the end it is an engaging book about grief and loss and how making art is an attempt to somehow capture life....more
I think this is my favourite of all the Colm Toibin books I have read. As always his writing is beautiful and simple, not overly dramatic, or contriveI think this is my favourite of all the Colm Toibin books I have read. As always his writing is beautiful and simple, not overly dramatic, or contrived in its plotting, but heartfelt and intimate. I am in awe of how he seems to capture such depth of character and setting with such a simple and non-intrusive style. There are no literary pretensions just a straightforward honesty that reflects his characters. He has a love and respect for them and such a good eye for the subtle nuances of their behaviour that, despite the fact it is a period novel, they feel almost real, as if they might be people you know, and I don't know if there can be any greater writing achievement than that....more