----------- soulful transformation through the stars. -----------

4 Apr 2011



Two orphan girls. One raised amongst thieves as a pickpocket (a fingersmith) and the other raised by the nurses in an asylum, and later by a rich uncle. Their lives will intertwine inextricably, as a plot to steal an inheritance carefully unfolds.

I have a 3-yr-old that sleeps badly, so naturally I try to grab as much sleep as possible. Yet I gave a couple of hours after she drifted off to finishing Fingersmith - that's how much I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sarah Waters has been compared to Dickens and Wilkie Collins. Her stories are filled with similar characters and devises such as thieves, villains,  madhouses, dark secrets, foggy and filthy London, country mansions, and enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you guessing and gasping.

Unlike Dickens and Collins, she's our contemporary. Her writing therefore offers the modern reader an easier task than the other authors, as well as modern sensibilities. In this case, this translates as swear words and sex. And let's make it lesbian sex for good measure.

If I allowed that point to be the highlight of Fingersmith, I would be doing Waters a great disservice as, unfortunately, too many of hers fan have already done. What makes it a significant part of her novel is that it's unusual. In actuality though, it's a very small portion of the entire story. And the wonderful tale is what gripped me to the very end.

Before us lay all the green country of England, with its rivers and its roads and its hedges, its churchs, its chimneys, its rising threads of smoke. The chimneys grew taller, and the roads and rivers wider, the threads of smoke more thick, the further off the country spread; until at last, at the furthest point of all, they made a smudge, a stain, a darkness--a darkness, like the darkness of coal in a fire--a darkness that was broken, here and there, where the sun caught panes of glass and the golden tips of domes and steeples, with glittering points of light.

'London,' I said. 'Oh, London!'

Sarah Waters' writing style and plot formation is very tight. Besides a portion at the very end, the story remains well-paced throughout. The characters are well-formed and easily differentiated, and we're given strong female protagonists. She has a very good ear for voice, which is doubly impressive when speaking for 19thC characters. She weaves richness and depth without ever becoming cumbersome. And her subtle themes are gems for the literary reader.

Waters gave me my favourite type of novel - literary fiction that doesn't slap me about the head with it's oh-so-cleverness.

Both Fingersmith and Tipping the Velvet are on the 1001 Must Read list, so I will be reading Waters again - gladly so. Although Fingersmith is reputedly her better novel.

This isn't a novel for everyone though. The Victorian mystery subjects might not be to everyone's tastes. Also, there is some lack of emotional commitment to characters. I did like and hate appropriately, but wasn't so involved as to feel the emotional turmoil. Rather than hopes for someone, you find yourself with hopes for something - without knowing what that something might be. This novel is really mostly about the tale. And what a ride it is!

other reviews:
Things Mean A Lot
Farm Lane Books


  1. This sounds like a great book. I've never read Waters but I keep hearing from readers about her, so clearly I'll have to pick her up one of these days.

  2. Beautiful review, Monica! I haven't read any of Sarah Waters' books before. I want to read 'Fingersmith' now :)

    I loved your comment - "She weaves richness and depth without ever becoming cumbersome." So beautifully put!

  3. I read this book years ago so my memories of it are pretty vague now - but I like the way you describe having hopes for someTHING rather than someONE. My feelings on the book were kind of middling, but maybe it's time i give "tipping the velvet" a try.

    -- ellen

  4. I liked this one as well, and just finished Little Stranger which was also good.

  5. I was on the fence about this book, but the Dickens comparison reeled me in--I'm a huge fan of all things Victorian. Great review. :)

  6. It really is a great read for Victorian-era fans.

  7. I've had the DVD of the TV series sitting around unwatched for years, so you've now inspired me to go read the book first. Yet another added to my to-read shelf on Goodreads!