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October 2016: Historical Fiction > The Crimson Petal and the White - Faber - 4 stars

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message 1: by Jgrace (last edited Oct 31, 2016 07:23AM) (new)

Jgrace | 2811 comments The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

The Crimson Petal and the White - Faber
Audio performance by Jill Tanner
4 stars

This was a trip to the dark side, or at least, to the underside, of Victorian London. Vivid descriptions, vivid characterizations, and a disturbing, dark, sordid, story. I can’t begin to say how very impressed I was with the quality of the writing. Every time I felt I’d had enough of the self serving William Rackham, or that I couldn’t take another description of the smells and filth of London’s dark alleys, I was still drawn back into the story by the excellent writing.

This is no pretty Regency romance. It’s an unvarnished look at the class and gender discrimination of late 19th century England. It’s about sexual exploitation and sexual repression. It is a sordid story. Rich in detail, superbly written, satirical and not without its heartwarming moments, but definitely sordid. There is no way around that with a protagonist, Sugar, who is a teenaged prostitute. While she may be unusual in her intelligence and her education, Faber makes no attempt to ‘sugarcoat’ Sugar’s background. Sugar is an incredibly vibrant character. So are Agnes, Rackham’s mentally unbalanced wife, and the righteous reformer Emmeline Fox. All of the male characters were either insufferably selfish and domineering or spinelessly weak. William Rackham was all of those things. The emotionally dysfunctional nature of the relationships in this book made me think of Attwood’s The Handmaid's Tale. I wanted to escape with Agnes and go to the Convent of Health. But, there’s no doubt that it was a page turner, all 835 pages. I was invested in these characters.

Despite the compelling prose and brilliant characters, I won’t give the book 5 stars. That is mostly a matter of personal taste. I understand the graphic and unlovely descriptions (and varieties) of the sexual act, given the nature of the book. It wasn’t gratuitous or overdone. It was realistic. However, I did tire of endless descriptions of other biological functions. I have a limited tolerance for urination, defecation, and vomit as plot devices. And, as much as I enjoyed Jill Tanner’s sly performance, this is where I turned to the printed text to avoid the repetition.

But, mostly, I found myself extremely annoyed with the ending. At the beginning of the book I liked the voice of the unnamed omniscient narrator, who invites the reader to ‘follow’ Sugar. That ‘voice’, presumably the author’s, added a nice element of satire. As the story proceeds and the ‘voice’ drops out, until, BANG, it’s back again, at the end of the book; which is clearly not the end of the story. As I said, I was invested, 835 pages of investment. I deserved a better ending.


message 2: by Karin (new)

Karin | 6994 comments I would have given this 4 stars had I been rating books back when I read this. I had very mixed feelings about the ending because I wasn't sure about what the future of a certain person would be that was really the only one I cared about by the end of the book.

It was very well written, but there were some rather disturbing parts to it, and not just the urination, defication and vomit., partly due to Sugar's profession when we meet her and a few other things. I loved the opening the very best of the whole book.


message 3: by Regina Lindsey (new)

Regina Lindsey | 1005 comments I can typically handle the type of things you are talking about if it makes sense in the context of the story. I'm reminded of The Blue Notebook. But, I don't know that I can handle it for 800+ pages


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