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Tipping the Velvet
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1001 book reviews > Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

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Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments 4 stars

I read this wonderful book (from the 1001books list) as part of Pride month 2018, and I am so glad that I did. Ms Waters' writing is lovely, rich, and descriptive. I was enchanted by her use of our language, and even when the story failed to surprise me she deftly kept me interested by her ability to write. I liked the protagonist and believed her journey.

The book's themes are unique: sexuality, identity, and gender roles. And also quite common in literature: passion, redemption, violence and love. It was wonderful to read a book that explored homosexuality in such a real and open way. And setting such a modern story in the Victorian era made it even more intriguing.


Dree | 243 comments I really enjoyed Waters' The Paying Guests, which had mystery and suspense wrapped up in the romance. This novel does not, it's a romance. A historical romance, so there are some great scenes and descriptions of 1890s London, and the entire thing is very well written. But romance is one of my least favorite genres. The good writing and historical scenes got me through and gets this novel 3 stars, but that's all.


Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 481 comments My review: This is Waters's first novel, and I found it by far the weakest, not surprisingly. This book is more like a lesbian variation on the sort of story Hollinghurst writes about gay men. It is a romance-oriented novel about a young woman, Nancy, who falls in love with a cross-dressing 'masher', a young woman entertainer who takes her along to London as an assistant. After a careful love affair, the entertainer, Kitty, marries a man and Nancy goes off on a binge in a seedy part of London dressed as a boy, and working the streets as a 'renter', a boy who gives hand-jobs to men for coin. After a while of this, and after a year spent as a kept woman, she lands herself in the home of an old acquaintance. They fall in love, and she at last has herself a safe, loving home to settle down in. It's a nice, happy ending, and a very Dickens-like adventure, an exploration of life in the underbelly of London for a gay woman. As such, this was a decent novel, and the sex scenes do not take over the book the way Hollinghurst's do, but on the whole I prefer Waters's later, better developed novels. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads.

I would happily have replaced this one with Night Watch, still my favorite of Waters's books so far, if I was to revise the 1001 List.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4263 comments Mod
Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters. Debut novel by author Sarah Waters is a coming of age, LGBTQ book and while not as good as her book Fingersmith probably deserves it place in 1001 books you must read before you die because of its contribution to the novel in the aspect of LGBTQ. That being said, the book, self described by author as a Lesbian romp is “too much information” for me. I don’t need or want this much sexual detail in my reading but if you like that, this book will give you a lot of detail. The story is set in the late 1800s in London and features such things as the oyster industry, theatre, socialism/early feminism.


Amanda Dawn | 1251 comments I just finished this book for my tbr and loved it. I gave it 5 stars. Between this and Fingersmith, I've really enjoyed Waters' writing. I love that she writes in a combination of historical vernacular and organic feeling modern style to create engrossing narratives that still feel contained in their time and place.

I do also love how she explicitly and unabashedly writes about LGBTQ people in history. Nancy's journey from naive small town girl just realizing her identity, to first love, to being sucked into the more lurid aspects of that life as a vulnerable young person, to 'finding her tribe' as it were with a like minded and supportive social circle of other 'toms' was great. It's not dissimilar to many Queer coming of age stories even today.

It was also a great exploration of the complex relationship between gender roles, identity, and sexuality. As well, I loved the aspect of Nancy's burgeoning class consciousness and the presence of the early socialist movement in the novel. The scene where she gives the public speech on inequity was a standout, and I was thrilled to find in the end she settles in a family structure with Florence- instead of following Kitty and staying shamed and secret.

I know some people don't love the explicit sexual aspects of the book, but I found it served one of the purposes of the book and therefore wasn't gratuitous: to treat queer sexuality- including sex- as completely normal, and therefore tells it without cover and any indication it should be.

Some favorite lines include (paraphrasing):

"There were at least 3 Sapphos at the party, and when I complimented a Queen Anne she got offended and informed me she was Queen Christina of Sweden" (I loved the references to all the lesbian historical figures).

"I felt silly because when I said I didn't couldn't even tell the difference between and Tory and Liberal they all laughed and said 'quite right' like I'd said something clever" (I love Nancy being an accidental great leftist commentator).


Karen | 295 comments Hmm... This is my second novel by Sarah Waters (after The Little Stranger) and she doesn't really seem to gel with me. I am not sure why. I read up until the end of part 1 in October and then put the book down until December when I read it while I was ill because I always try and finish books in the same year I start them. However, when I actually was reading the book it flowed well and was a quick read.

I didn't much like the heroine but I expected to be blown away because of the fairly unusual lesbian historical subject matter. I wasn't.

3 stars. Just.


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