Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.
With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
Sarah Waters is a British novelist. She is best known for her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, as well the novels that followed, including Affinity, Fingersmith, and The Night Watch.
Waters attended university, earning degrees in English literature. Before writing novels Waters worked as an academic, earning a doctorate and teaching. Waters went directly from her doctoral thesis to her first novel. It was during the process of writing her thesis that she thought she would write a novel; she began as soon as the thesis was complete.
now that i have your attention... dana has been bugging me to write a review of this for the longest time, and now that she is on vacation and out of my path for ten minutes (seriously - the girl moved to my town just so she could stand under my window all night calling "hey!! heyyy!! write a review for fingersmith! come on, you know you want to!!")
so, now that i have a little breathing room, i will do my best.
it's true, i want her to read this. i want everyone to read this. sarah waters has some amazing strengths - she creates well-developed, complicated characters, she is a master at pacing, she can construct very tight, multi-layered narratives where the next move is always surprising, and she recreates the victorian setting better than anyone else that i have read. there is also a kickass "mystery" plot in here. not a detective-y whodunnit mystery, but more traditionally dickens/collins family mystery with elements of mamet's house of games. it is almost 600 pages of puppy-shuddering bliss. but be honest, i had you at lesbian dickens.
sarah waters is an author i always break my "save one book" vow with - her last two books, i had to buy the very day they came in, i slapped a "do not disturb" sign on my head and i just plowed through them in a matter of hours. and then i felt that gutsick christmas midafternoon void where you look around and whimper hopefully - "more??". she is that good. and this is her at her very best.
for me, the best aspect of the victorian is the marginalized, the liminal members of society and what they do to get by. in this case, there is a young woman raised by a band of thieves (a band of thieves!!!) who gets roped into perpetrating a pretty long con only to find herself in a love triangle and perhaps being conned herself.
but i have said too much!
seriously - this book is a genuine crowd pleaser, even though the obnoxious lady from last week dismissed it ... "i don't want to sound fatuous, but i suppose i shall say it anyway.... this looks so.... middlebrow..." (david, i am using your voice here to recreate, i hope you don't mind)
not that there's anything wrong with "middlebrow", especially coming from a lady like this who proved that she had no idea what a 17-year-old reluctant reader would be pleased to get as a gift and instead was imposing her own values on this poor girl.(shame, shame) hey, kid - hope you enjoy the journals of john evelyn!! a real page-turner!
all i know is this is a truly enjoyable and memorable book,and my brows suit me perfectly. hhmph.
This novel, for me all pastiche, pasteboard and mirrors, really irritated me principally because I could have read two good novels in the time it took me to wade through it.
For a start it’s way too long. It’s not like Waters is serving up any profound insights into human nature or casting her eye over a wide panorama of human life. It’s essentially a novel that traffics in pastiche (plagiarism?) and is built on two startling plot twists (and as such tailor made for the screen). Waters overwrites every single scene, always telling us far too much, always throwing yet more wood on the fire which has the effect of continually tipping the emotional register close to melodrama. Whenever a character is in the grip of an emotion it’s like an entire orchestra strikes up operatic music. The dialogue is often ham Victorian slapstick (even the BBC couldn’t rectify this). She also endlessly repeats herself. Doesn’t help that to enable the plot twist she has to write the entire first part again from another perspective. This is often the problem with plot twists – they stifle all the blood out of the characters, they reduce characters to devices. The plot of this novel straitjackets all the characters. The men are pantomime villains. They have no inner life. Are simply wheeled on and off stage when required. The women aren’t much better. They have to do what the plot requires them to do. There’s never a sense that their natural feeling is creating the plot.
Suspension of disbelief is impossible. So much in this novel is preposterous that it’s as far-fetched as Harry Potter except this isn’t a fantasy novel.
It quotes or pastiches most of popular Victorian literature. Most notably The Woman in White. But also, of course, Dickens and George Eliot (Casaubon, the ogre of the library, is here compiling an inventory of pornographic literature).
On a good note it did make me again appreciate the brilliance of Dickens who could do great plot twists without sacrificing character development.
This totally wonderful novel does exactly what the title says, it fingers your myth, it steals up on your soul and breathes down its neck and a shudder of pleasure is felt to the ends of all your extremities, your brain will wobble, your hair will vibrate strongly, and your eyebrows will be thrust up and down like energetic trampolining children as the intricate-clockmaker plot fastens your eyes ravenously to every page - draw the curtains, do not charge the mobile phone, tell your friends you have gone to Tibet for three weeks, or Saskatchewan if that's less likely to make them worry. If there's an earthquake or a revolution you won't notice. In that way this book is close kin to The Quincunx and The Crimson Petal and the White. I want to be buried with all these three novels. So, you may know it's a Modern Victorian novel, which is a mini-genre I love & want more of, and you may also have heard that in this particular Modern Victorian lesbians are somehow involved. It is true, but what is more to the point is that a completely enthralling love story is portrayed, which happens to be between two women.
Update 2022: Today, I’ve been thinking about this novel with affection. Also I realised I still remember the plot quite well which is rare, especially considering that ai read it 7 years ago. As a result, I decided to upgrade the rating to 5 stars.
It seems that Fingersmith is one of those books that people want to read but are not doing it for some reason. I say this because I have 30 friends that added the title on their TBR shelf. I was also one of them as I've bought the paperback two years ago and I only convinced myself to read it now. I do not regret finally taking the plunge and I recommend my friends to go ahead and do the same because it is worth it. If the size is a deterrent than I can tell you that it does not feel like a 500+ pages door stopper.
Fingersmith is a novel that is strongly based on its plot so I will not say too much about it here. Susan Tinder is an orphan raised by Ms. Sucksby in Victorian London house of schemers and thieves. One of the regular visitors to the house, Gentleman, makes Sue an offer she cannot refuse. She is asked to help him relieve a young woman, Maud, of her fortune. The young woman lives in a Gothic, secluded manor together with his strange uncle. Gentleman secured a temporary job with the uncle and the plan is for Sue to become Maud’s maid, help the thief seduce the young woman into marriage and after the fortune was secured to lock her in a mental hospital. Do expect some crazy plot twists, some of them quite preposterous. The book is structured in three parts, the first and last one narrated from Sue’s POV and the middle one from Maud’s.
Sarah Waters is a wonderful storyteller and she manages to perfectly recreate the atmosphere of Victorian London. There is a bit of Dickens feel to this novel which drawn me even more into the adventures of the two young women.
[ this paragraph contains a spoiler] After reading this book I feel once again grateful that I live in this era and in a country where women have equal rights. The thought that women could have been sent to a mental institution by their husbands if they did not behave feels so scary and unbelievable to me. I read something similar in another book so this detail was probably not part of the author’s imagination.
It was almost a 5 star for me but something was missing. Maybe some of the plot twists were a bit inconceivable, maybe the story was a bit melodramatic. Worth reading, nevertheless
Wow! What a remarkably compelling and atmospheric gothic tale , A real treat for lovers of this genre or for readers who enjoy well written historical fiction with vivid and interesting characters and an errie sense of time and place. This is what 5 Stars books are made of for me.
I loved this book and can’t believe I hadn’t read this one until now but boy was it worth waiting for. Such a page turner and those twists and turns really kept me on my toes from start to finish. I picked this one up by chance in a second hand book shop while on an outing one Saturday and what a great find it was just the engrossing read I needed after a bunch of 2 and 3 star books.
Set in London 1862, Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth grows up among petty thieves, fingersmiths under the rough but loving cars of Mrs Sucksby and her family, Sue’s fate becomes linked to that of another orphan growing up in a gloomy mansion and her life takes a turn that is least expected and makes for chilling reading.
The author creates an amazing sense of time an place here and you are drawn into the London of 1862 and at times throughout this tightly woven plot I felt myself holding my breath and wanting to skip pages just to see the characters fates as I just was that caught up in the plot. There is a love story at the heart of this novel that is beautifully written and real. A charming but twisted tale full of villains, intrigue and secrets. This book was a lengthy read and probably could have benefited with being cut back by 100 pages and not affected the story in the least. The fact that the story is told from the viewpoint of two of the characters does make it a little repetitive. Having said that a terrific read that gave me so much enjoyment and if asked in 10 years time do I remember the characters fromFingersmith will say ABSOLUTELY ! YES! And that is my measure of really good book.
A tricky book to review, partly because it didn't live up to my (possibly unfairly high) hopes and partly because I'm trying to write shorter, punchier reviews, but this was almost 600 pages long. I have failed...
Waters is an award-winning historical novelist, who specialises in the Victorian period (and lesbian protagonists). This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and her PhD thesis even covers a key subject of this book.
I was expecting something like the wondrous sensuality of Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, in terms of atmosphere, writing and to some extent, content: another “dirty Dickens”. Unfortunately, it fell short. It’s not a bad book, but nowhere near as rich or enjoyable as I'd hoped.
I noticed quite a few echoes of classics, and I liked all but one of these little homages. That one though, is the main reason I gave this book only 3*.
A fingersmith is a pickpocket, and Oliver Twist is explicitly mentioned on the first page (and a couple of times thereafter). Unsurprising but harmless.
There are indirect allusions to Don Quixote, when it's suggested that too much "literature" might trigger madness, and a librarian is “a curator of poisons”.
Jane Eyre is a clear inspiration, with a Mrs Rivers (not that there was, quite, one in JE), a magical-realist thread tugging, almost literally, at the heart of a separated lover, and a willful child who is treated rather as Aunt Reed treated Jane.
Aspects of the life of one character have eerie echoes of one in Great Expectations (). Noticing this wasn’t really a spoiler, but it added to the feeling of familiarity, rather than originality.
There are quite a few ghost-story tropes, but only in a couple of chapters: fog, a mysterious candlelit figure at a window, clocks striking in a dilapidated house, nightmares… etc.
The fundamental problem for me was the numerous parallels to another classic, meaning that the plot of this held few surprises:
Plenty of authors have successfully based their work on a well-loved tale, so I’m not sure why I had such a problem with this one. I think it’s that I didn’t enjoy it enough in general, coupled with the fact this could be classed as a mystery, so knowing the plot rather killed the mystery.
Three Sections, Two Narrators
The book is split into thirds. Part one (3*) is narrated by Susan, a girl of about fifteen, who has lived all her life with fingersmiths, in a household that is a slightly more benevolent version of Bill Sykes and Nancy’s establishment. Her storytelling style is necessarily rather plain. She overuses “pretty” as a modifier (“pretty precious”, “pretty good”) and sprinkles the odd bit of thieves’ slang, yet it didn’t conjure the right tone for me.
Part two (4*) is narrated by Maude, who is the same age, but living in a country house with her reclusive uncle. I really enjoyed this section, partly because her more descriptive and thoughtful voice was more engaging, but mainly because of the way this section repeatedly refuted so many of my assumptions and quibbles in part one, and raised questions about most of the others. Almost nothing is as it seemed. “Why should my uncle lie?”… “Why should he tell the truth?”
Part three (2*) was back to Susan. That in itself was predictable, and most of the plot was too.
Anyone struggling with part one who is tempted to skim it to get to part two really shouldn’t, otherwise the contrasts and contradictions will be lost on them.
Several reviews mention the frequent and surprising plot twists. I didn’t really notice any until the end of part one, and once I realised the book whose plot it follows, most weren’t really surprises, though they certainly count as twists: so many lies and so much double-crossing and confusion. I can see why it can be exciting: love, betrayal, mistaken identity, wealth, madness, revenge, escape, transformation, murder… yet excitement eluded me.
Waters is well known as a lesbian writer who often includes lesbian themes. That crops up here, but is not extensive enough to sway readers one way or the other when deciding whether to read it.
Fingers feature prominently though, mainly in part two. Maude always wears spotless gloves and her uncle has a big brass plaque on the library floor beyond which servants must not cross, lest their eyes damage the books. He says it’s in the shape of a pointing finger.
Erotica or Porn?
This book is neither, but it indirectly raises question about the distinction. “The flesh made word” was a neat (and maybe slightly heretical) definition. “Words… they seduce us in darkness and the mind clothes and fleshes them.”
Some have suggested books should have trigger warnings. It can be tricky to do that without spoilers. There’s nothing graphic here, but abusive and manipulative relationships of various kinds are explored here. “I might pass for a girl in an allegory, Confidence Abused”.
One interesting angle is that .
There’s also the quotidian dishonesty of and betrayal by lifelong crooks, but that’s rather different.
Willing Suspension of Disbelief?
These factors contributed to why it didn’t feel Dickensian enough to me (it’s set in 1862). It seems mean-spirited to check these things out, but I did. If you’re fond of this book, or haven’t read it, skip this section.
I was also distracted by a Chekhov’s Gun that never properly went off () and Waters’ rather odd way of introducing direct speech: She said, “Direct quote as new paragraph, following on from paragraph that ended with a comma.”
Had I been enjoying it more, I would probably have been able to ignore these issues.
More positively, some of the things that seemed improbable in part one turned out to have vaguely plausible explanations in part two, and as with many Victorian novels, guilt is a major theme, though here the twist is that few have more than a passing acquaintance with it.
Overall, not a bad book, but nowhere near as enjoyable as I'd hoped. It was a page turner (though towards the end, I wanted to speed it up a bit), but it just didn’t speak to me – and I did listen.
If I'd never heard of it or the book it’s based on, I would probably have given 4*, but my enjoyment was only 3*.
• “Stitching dog skins onto stolen dogs, to make them seem handsomer breeds”. Not a crime I’d ever heard of!
• “Servants grow sentimental over the swells they work for, like dogs grow fond of bullies.”
• “How many stories does one man need?” The question relates to the uncle in his library, but it could be asked of many of the double and triple-crossing characters in the book.
• “The silence, that my uncle cultivates… as other men grow vines and flowering creepers.”
• “It is not the prospect of whipping that makes me meek. It is what I know of the cruelty of patience.”
• “My obedience enrages her more than ever my passions did.”
• He “carries his daring, his confidence, close and gaudy about him, like swirls of colour or perfume.”
• “Even wax limbs must yield at last. to the heat of the hands that lift and place them.”
Holy Crackers! What a read! I felt like Alice falling down the Rabbit Hole. This story has more twists and turns than a shopping cart caught in the wind in a Walmart parking lot. When you commit to this one, please know that it is heavy lifting at almost 600 pages. Some parts are easily predictable, while other parts leave you smarting from the surprise attack.
Many others have done an excellent job in relaying the plot design here. I won't go into that aside from saying that Sarah Waters has an exceptional talent of sculpting her characters befitting of the Dickens era right down to the crisp dialog. I was intrigued from the start. It's like throwing out the time old question of, "Who are you, REALLY?" Be prepared for some crazy zapped answers to that one.
"We have a name for your disease. We call it a hyper-aesthetic one. You have been encouraged to over-indulge yourself in literature; and have inflamed your organs of fancy. You have read too much."
Such was told to women of the day. That quote from the book left me laughing with my head fully tilted back and thinking, dear reader, how you and I would be locked up for sure from mega hours and years of "taking to the literature". Maybe that is why I tend to be glassy-eyed and incoherent after a block-buster read. Now there's a name for that......
Pigeons and pearls. Perceptions and palpability. I’d explain in detail, but that would spoil all the fun. Instead, as elliptically as I can, I’ll hint at their relevance with vague allusions. Sue was an orphan in Victorian London, raised among thieves. Despite the fact that in the hierarchy of larceny her lot were never more than petite bourgeoisie, Sue’s existence was not as Dickensian as it might have been. Baby farmer Mrs. Sucksby seemed to take a particular shine to Sue, and more or less raised her as her own. Then came a fateful day when Sue was 17. A “gentleman” of their acquaintance called on them with an intricate plan. Mr. Rivers, known to them simply as Gentleman, outlined his scheme to bilk a young lady the same age as Sue out of her inheritance. Maud, the young target, lived in a declining but still functioning country estate with a reclusive uncle. Sue was to pose as a lady’s maid and bolster Gentleman’s case for marrying Maud. Sue would then get a cut of the money. So you’re pretty sure you know what I mean by pigeon, right? As for “pearl,” you might imagine those shiny white things cast among swine, or, if you know Sarah Waters and her reputation for lesbian love stories, you might picture lustrous riches in more carnal terms. Part of what I like about this book is that, for reasons of reversed notions, I’m forbidden to elaborate. That means an easier review, benefitting you and me both.
I can say that the book is broken into thirds. Sue narrates the first part, Maud gets a turn to tell her side of the story in the second, and Sue takes over again at the end. Keenly observed perceptions and perspectives are keys to making this work. But then, things are not always as they seem. As a rule, I like surprises, and Waters gives us some good ones. After reaching critical mass, though, I began reading each scene suspicious of more. To be honest, it became a distraction.
As for the palpability, you expect that from Victorian England, right? Mind you, we’re not talking about Mayfair here. This is the seedier side, where the muck, the rough edges, and the hard feelings truly are palpable. Separate from that, the rare moments of tenderness are also honestly felt. As are the relationships, predicated on what each thinks she knows about the other at any given time. I give Waters credit for making me think about surface relations, hidden agendas, and more visceral matters of the human heart.
I suspect anyone who has read both this book as well as The Crimson Petal and the White is constitutionally incapable of avoiding comparison. I know I can’t. For me, Crimson Petal gets the nod in the novel-about-fascinating-women-set-in-Victorian-England run-off. It’s unforgettable for its plot, characters and writing. But this one shines, too. The writing is vivid, the language is colorful (even in the title – fingersmith for pickpocket), the plot is engaging, and the emotions are, uh – what was that word? – oh yeah, palpable.
4.5/5 stars. I don't like to use this word but this book was definitely a "mind-fuck". I went into it not knowing much about it other than that Sarah Waters has written it, a lot of people have recommended it and I had previously read "Tipping the Velvet" by Sarah Waters, so I wanted to read more by her. I LOVE that I didn't know what was coming because that made the reading experience so much more intense. I was in awe at several points in the book and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was going on. Sarah Waters plays with the reader and provides you with incredible plot twists, and she manages to weave it all together perfectly through small details and descriptions that are repeated during the narrative. I loved it! I would like for everyone else to read this book without knowing too much about it, and therefore I'm not going to say much else. But trust me when I say that this book will pull tricks on you, so if you like those kind of reading experiences you should definitely pick it up :)
Sue, an orphan, was raised by concealers in London: the main crossroads where all the little thugs from the corner meet; they also raise abandoned children that they later sell to infertile couples or other houses for whom unattached young girls are a good godsend. But Sue quietly reaches seventeen without her adoptive parents ever intending to get rid of her. Her opportunity to embark on the world of crime comes finally: A gentleman, an elegant crook, has spotted a wealthy heiress lost in a small country village, who will touch the inheritance once married. The plan is simple: Sue will hire as a companion to the young girl, help the Gentleman seduce the damsel to the point of sneaking her to church to marry her and deflower her, and then put the guardian in front of the done. The plan goes off without a hitch, although Sue gradually begins to have some feelings for the little white goose that she has to pluck. And then everything changes: instead of being part of a simple intrigue, Sue finds herself at the end of a viper's nest, where the cruelest machinations occur from all sides, each being the dupe of another. Waters has a natural talent for immersing us in the atmosphere of Victorian England. I found the same pleasure in reading this novel. The drama is numerous and is harsh on the protagonists—an author to discover without hesitation if it has not yet been done.
I have to admit that throughout almost all of Fingersmith the main random thoughts sweeping across the desolate land of my mind were along the lines of: WTF? WHAT? WHAT DID JUST HAPPEN?
This is an intricate, ambitious, original, jaw-dropping, gut-punching, heart-wrenching plot for which I will NOT give you a synopsis. First, because I wouldn't know where to start from and second because it's better for you if you know NOTHING about it. Then you'll have my same random thoughts, as stated above.
I'll just give you a few fundamental points: you need to know it's set in Victorian England, it's about thieves, an elaborate scam and it is not for people who don't tolerate gratuitous cruelty, mind games and deceptions in their books. Actually, I'd say its main theme is just that: DECEPTION.
This is not what I would usually pick up: books that keep continuously on edge, anxious, oppressed, frustrated, puzzled, even nauseated at times are so not my cup of tea. So while on the one hand I gave it 4 stars because I did like it, on the other hand I cringe when I look at it, even now, a few days later. But I guess it's just what I am meant to feel, for such a book. So yes, a success in its genre.
My main complaint is its length. Its change of pace unsettled me, starting off as dull, then giving you a big punch in the face around one third in, then lulling again for quite a long chunk to finish off with a great epilogue. So while some parts where breath-taking and put me in a frenzy (I swear I was tachycardic), some other parts kind of put me in a stupor (while monsoons where still blowing my mind and I was trying to figure out what could possibly happen next.)
All in all a great read but not for the faint of heart. I'm pretty sure I want to read something else by this author, once I get over the persecutory delusions I developed with Fingersmith.
I suppose that starting sentence is not the best way to advertise it but it was long and wordy and it dragged sometimes. My main complaint is that there was a lot of repetition. At some point we have a different perspective to the same plot and it could have been good but after awhile it just read a bit tedious. It wasn’t done badly but I suppose it’s just one of those things where I subjectively would have preferred a different approach.
There were some plot twists and mysteries that were enough to engage me and I did like the descriptive passages and the setting as Victorian England. (I don’t read many books set in that time period unless we’re talking classics, therefore, it was a nice for a change)
The premise is intriguing. An orphan growing up with a band of thieves who gets involved in a long con perpetrated on an unassuming woman in order to take her for everything she’s worth.
There were some surprising aspects such as the lesbian relationship that develops. (historical, Victorian novels are not exactly knows for their lgbt rep, so that was a nice surprise). I read a review that called this novel a lesbian dickens and I couldn’t agree more - although on a personal level, that endorsement doesn’t really entice me, since Dickens is not my cup of tea. It is my understanding that this author is known for writing lesbian relationships in most of her books and does it well.
I liked the character development, although it was sometimes a bit melodramatic.
Overall, I enjoyed it. I can see why people recommend it and praise it, but it didn’t have the wow factor that I needed in order to feel the same about it.
A friend knocked on my door one evening and I answered, looking disheveled and I think a bit frightened. She asked me what was wrong, if she had interrupted something. I said no, that I had just been reading Fingersmith and I was really stressed out because now I had to leave the house and didn't know what was going to happen next. And that is basically how this book took over my life (in a good way).
Sue is an orphan who lives in London in a house of petty thieves. A con man known as Gentleman convinces her to take a position as the maid of young wealthy heiress Maud Lilly, and in doing so, help him seduce and swindle her. The intimate nature of their relationship as well as the underlying plot allow the two girls to grow much closer than either anticipated, as each one has so much at stake.
I literally couldn't put this book down. When I had to leave the house I took it with me, hoping that I might get a moment to read a little further. There were so many plot twists, but the amazing thing was that it was actually smart and unpredictable.
I gasped out loud. I actually yelled, "No fucking way!!" on page 183 (only a third of the way into the novel). When I wasn't reading, I used up my brainpower guessing about what would happen next, how the heroines could get out of the situation. To put it bluntly, I was obsessed. Everyone I've talked to about this book has had the same experiences. So if you enjoy obsessing and agonizing over a novel that will overtake your life for at least a week and make you anxious and excited, then this is definitely the book for you. In fact, if you love fiction at all, you should read this book immediately.
What a wondrously-rendered, gloriously languid 19th century roman noir! Using imagery that springs to mind so vividly one would think it a memory, Sarah Waters has fashioned a glorious work of fiction.
Fair maidens and dastardly villains; country estate and insane asylum; den of thieves and literary purists; murder and mayhem in Victorian London; Sarah Waters manages to blend it all and produce one whale of a story that had me gulping it ravenously into the night, coming up for air only when it was done.
If you crave authentic historical fiction, clever plot twists, and a fine romance, I highly recommend you don't miss this gem.
This book will probably make my year-end Top 10 list. A taut, atmospheric thriller with more twists and turns than a Whitechapel alley, plunging into the seamy underbelly of Victorian London. At first absolutely no one is likeable in this tale, certainly not protagonist Sue, a young thief who enters into a queasy scheme to help a con man marry an heiress and then lock her up in a mad-house to claim her fortune. Everyone has a secret and nothing is what it seems: not Sue, not her unscrupulous partner, not even the apparently pathetic Maud who is the mark. Sarah Waters whip-lashes the reader in brutal plot turn-arounds not just once but twice, and accomplishes the impossible in making us empathize deeply with characters we at first despised. The atmosphere is all-enveloping, the plot an intricate marvel, and the tender romance that grows between two brutalized women is a heart-breaker. One of the best books I've read all year.
The Fingersmith is a book about double-crossing, and the tension of double-crossing when you find someone you love.
There are three seperate incredibly wild twists that instantly change the entire fabric of the book, or at least that’s how it feels. We get new glimpses at character, entirely new viewpoints on the world of this story, and moreover, an entirely new vision on the story. The turnarounds are so fast and consistently held my interest. The writing is good, solid, and keeps you invested.
There is also a love story between two women at the center of this. I’m not going to say a lot about this, but the subtext of the two of hearts still gets me.
Unfortunately, I struggled with the pacing of this book. flashbacks that add the other character’s perspective can get somewhat dense. . The dialogue repetition, specifically, began to get really frustrating. This is a five-hundred-page thriller, and frankly, I wanted to get through a lot faster.
While reading this, I could not help but compare it to The Handmaiden (2016) dir. Park Chan Woo, a movie based off this book and which I watched two years ago. It is, unfortunately, not the most favorable-ever comparison, and I am forced to conclude that I should have read the book before watching the movie. Here are two more tragically denigrating comparisons: ✔Flashbacks that add the other character’s perspective just work a lot better on film because you can cut out the constant dialogue repetition. ✔The Handmaiden just has a much more solid second half overall. the second half of this did not work for me very much. ✔Adding is an instant kill.
Aside from the pacing, though, this was an interesting story and I’m glad I finally read it!
“I have some knowledge of the time that may be misspent, clinging to fictions and supposing them truths.”
Sue Trinder is an orphan living a Dickensian-like life in 19th century London - her mother was hanged as a murderer when Sue was a baby, leaving Sue to be raised by Mrs. Sucksby in a "baby farm" in the slums of London. Sue grows up surrounded by thieves and pickpockets ("fingersmiths"), learning to counterfeit coins and commit petty crimes, and then one day she's offered a chance at a much bigger job. A con man known as Gentleman has a plan to trick an heiress out of her fortune by seducing and marrying her (and then dumping the girl in an insane asylum once he has the money), and he needs Sue to pose as the girl's maid and spy on her. But as in all good crime stories, the job isn't as simple as it sounds, and everyone has their own agenda. And it turns out that Sue's target, the innocent heiress Maud Lilly, has secrets of her own that Sue will discover...(Homer Simpson voice) with sexy results.
Here's an indication of how good Fingersmith is, and how well it hooks you - I read this book six months ago, but I can still remember every great plot twist and betrayal that happens. It sticks with you, is what I'm saying.
The book is divided into sections based on character perspective. First we're in Sue's head, learning the details of the job and going to the Lilly mansion to pull off the con. Just as soon as we feel comfortable, and are confident that we know what's going on, Waters yanks the rug out from under us. The con, we learn, is not what we thought it was, and then, in the next section, we get to read the same scenes again - but from Maud's perspective this time. And Waters isn't done! After that, we get another section, just to drive home the point that every time we thought we had the whole story, we were wrong.
Con men (and women), romance, revenge, skullduggery, betrayals on top of betrayals! What's not to love?
AND NOW A NOTE ON THE MOVIE: The Handmaiden, Park Chan-Wook's adaption of Fingersmith, is fascinating for a lot of reasons. First, changing the setting to 1930's Korea works really, really well, and the movie sets just the right beautiful but vaguely suspicious tone that the novel requires. The changing perspectives are handled well too, and as a bonus, the romance elements are lovely and charming and sexy. (fun fact: I saw this movie in theaters, and let me tell you, it is quite an experience to sit in a room full of people all maintaining mature, thoughtful silence while we watch two women [redacted because of spoilers and children present]) Also, if you saw the movie but didn't read the book, man you are missing out, because The Handmaiden cuts off Waters' story about two thirds of the way in, because they just didn't have enough time to explore all the plot twists from the original. So if you liked the movie, please go read the book, because there are some major, major bombshells that you still need to know about.
At first, after reading the book's plot summary, I expected it to be a rompish, Les Liaisons Dangereuses-like adventure. 17-year old Susan Trinder, a foster kid in a family of fingersmiths (thieves), is recruited to act as a lady's maid to equally young and wealthy Maud Lilly. Susan's role in the devious scheme is to gently push this naive and simple-minded girl into the arms of Mr. Rivers, strip Ms. Lilly of her inheritance and then dump her in a madhouse.
Needless to say, the story didn't quite turn out to be about a man seducing an innocent girl out of her knickers and money. Like every other reviewer, I will refrain from revealing anything more of the plot. Let's just say, Fingersmith becomes a much, much darker tale full of violence, abuse, betrayal, dark secrets and a little bit of girl love (not explicit like in Tipping the Velvet). Nothing in this novel is what it appears to be on the surface.
Very few modern authors manage to write historical fiction that sounds authentic. Sarah Waters is one of the few that can do it exceptionally. I haven't read much Dickens to enter a flowery comparison here, but Waters' prose is very much on par with the best 19th century writers, only slightly more explicit and touching on the subject hushed out in the mainstream fiction of that era (I am talking porn and reprehensible way of treating wealthy women behind closed doors and in houses for crazies).
Knocked down a star for the not long enough ending and necessary to the plot, but nevertheless often redundant, middle part.
Boring. Just boring. Painfully painfully boring. Are you willing to slough through 592 pages of wanna-be Victorian writing for a couple of plot twists and lesbian sex scenes?
Half the damn book was Waters narrating in excruciating detail who blushed when. Or, as she puts it, whose "face coloured" when. Note the 'u' in colored. That means that it's a classy British book and not at all a bland excuse to foist a little bit of bean-fiddling on those who are too repressed to admit that that's what they really want to read about.
I will never forgive the person who recommended this book to me.
My oh my- take me back to the beginning of the century! This book was simply delightful and hard to set down.
Susan Trinder is orphaned into a home for thieves, pickpockets if you will, AKA fingersmiths! She is raised poor and learns to steal, cheat, and lie her way through life with her pals- Mr Ibbs (an olden day pawn shop owner), Gentlemen, and of course who could forget Mrs. Sucksby? The mama bear of the house. Susan turns 17 and Gentlemen has come up with the con to end all cons-- taking advantage of the niece of a wealthy man up in the country. He plans to marry her and then send her to the madhouse and run off with her money. He uses Sue as a cog in the scheme to become employed as the maid to this very special niece-- Maud Lilly. That's the premise and that's all I'm saying about the plot because the execution left me hanging onto every single printed word.
This book has been hailed as a modern Dickensian novel, and I savored every long chapter Ms. Waters presented. Broken down into three parts- the author takes her time weaving a solid storyline with fleshed out characters and just as she manages to sell her story, she pulls the rug right out from underneath the reader. Plot twists always leave me satiated. especially ones completely changing the perspective for me. I fell in love with old London, the characters and the writing. My only complaint was how much I abhor long chapters- however these flew by rather quickly considering.
My first by Sarah Waters and definitely not my last. Well done and I would highly recommend.
If you like being tortured or sit on pins and needles for an entire read, and by entire read I mean THE ENTIRE READ from the first line to the very last, then this is the book for you. And, damn, this thing is nearly 600 pages or 23 hrs if you're listening to the audiobook.
On the final line of the last page I felt like I emerged from a bunker since sinister doom was around the corner at every turn.
What saves it, though, is that the book is brilliant and well-crafted. The prose is rich, every character is solid and nuanced, and the twists and turns are truly unexpected. The story is vivid and multi-layered. There's a lot to analyze if one so wishes but it also can just be read at the surface, too. I can absolutely see why it gets the praise that it does.
I agree with some other critics that the book did feel too long. Though each page is written well, a big chunk of the 2nd narrator could've been chopped to make the pacing less of a drudgery. If Waters intended for the fuller storytelling to add to the dread and suspense, though, mission accomplished.
As for genre, this is a historical fiction set in England during Victorian times that stars two seventeen year-old women and highlights the horrific disparities of class and sex. A same-sex relationship is present and impacts the story but it also is so very minor in the grand scheme of things. We get it for a very short time early on in the story and, once it's done, we don't really get it again. So, is it a romance? As a blip, yes.
And, no, I wouldn't label this as young adult (YA).
If it had a theme it would be "Things are not as they seem."
We get switching alternative view points between the two leading ladies of the story, Maud, the lady, and Susan, the lady's maid. Both have a distinct voice and, as a reader, I'm torn between rooting for each of them while also hoping they trip. Sarah Waters enjoys putting her readers in this pickle just as much as her characters.
As the story unfolded I kept going along thinking "This can't happen. Surely, something will come through in the end to make things different". But, alas, that is not to be and things unfold in a gut-turning manner.
I will say, the book does have a sober yet happy ending. Thank goodness because, if it didn't, I'd really really hate this book. As it is, I at least got a sigh of relief in the end which made the ordeal worthwhile.
For the read, I did listen to the audiobook version which was narrated by Juanita McMahon and she was absolutely fantastic throughout. She's a professional actress and makes the words sing and come to life. I really don't think the narration could have been any better so major kudos to her.
Technically speaking, "Fingersmith" is a five star book but the non-stop angst and the longer narrative did impact my enjoyment. I don't want to be that stressed during a read so I put this somewhere between 4 and 4.5 stars.
If you choose to read this, tuck in, and don't forget your food rations and bunker helmet. You're going to need it.
This was my first experience of reading Waters - I had been deterred by having seen some of the rather silly TV adaptation of Tipping the Velvet, but when this was chosen as a group read by the 21st Century Literature group I thought I should give it a chance.
Waters has clearly steeped herself in Victorian literature, and on one level this is a classic Victorian potboiler full of outlandish plot twists, coloured by the kind of period detail familiar from the likes of Dickens and Hardy.
The plot twists are so outrageous that I won't spoil them here. The two central characters (a classic pair of opposites) are two young women. Sue is an orphan brought up in a criminal household in London's underworld, and Maud is an heiress confined to her uncle's lonely mansion by the Thames near Marlow. The first and last parts are narrated by Sue, and the middle part by Maud, and they both drawn into a plot to gain Maud's inheritance, which is dependent on her marriage.
Waters explores many aspects of Victorian society and its hypocrisy, focussing on the experiences of women and their limited choices, with fascinating asides on mental hospitals, erotic fiction and various forms of criminal activity, some of which stretch the reader's credulity.
This was a very enjoyable read, so much so that I read most of the second half of the book in one day, if for me a little too melodramatic to be entirely satisfying.
A superbly written novel, full of great twists and turns. You may be able to guess some of what's going on, but the author will still surprise you with daring prose and unexpected red herrings. If you've never read the author before (as I had not) I'd recommend not reading ANY reviews about the book, not even the Amazon general description. The book jacket and this http://orangeprizeproject.blogspot.co... should whet your appetite enough. Trust in the author to do the rest.
Part I of the book and its Oh My Bloody Shrimping Twist of Flabbergastation (OMBSToF™) were pretty fishing cool. I mean, Victorian mystery + thieves and cons + lesbian heroines + um, you know, that, um, twist =
Yes, this ⤴ does mean I almost nearly enjoyed the beginning of the story.
Part II was pretty good at first, but then it all started getting somewhat sort of moderately boring after Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler (not the character’s real name) did spoiler spoiler spoiler and ended up being spoilered spoilered spoilered in spoiler spoiler spoiler (I have a special talent for faithful–and not too revealing–plot recaps, I know). It wasn’t bad, just a teensy little bit, you know, not fascinating and stuff. Not exactly sleep-inducing, but definitely crank-up-the-narrator-speed-to-3x-who-cares-if-you-don’t-understand-what-the-fish-she’s-saying-prompting.
Then we got another plot twist, which wasn’t nearly as flabbergastatingly flabbergastating as the first. I do dare say it was indeed as predictable as me saying “unleash the crustaceans” at the sight of a YA Historical Paranormal Romance. Oh, what a most fitting analogy! Go me and stuff. Anyway, so the not unexpected twist ♫twisted things again♫ , and that was the end of Part II and stuff.
Part III was a significant improvement on well, um, you know, part II, mostly because I like Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler better than I do Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler (the characters’ names have been changed to protect their privacy). But that’s neither here spoiler spoiler spoiler nor there spoiler spoiler spoiler. I have to say I particularly enjoyed when Spoiler Spoiler Spoiler spoilered spoilered spoilered to spoiler spoiler spoiler. But then it all fell like a bloody stinking soufflé again, and most of the ending felt like the OTT pastiche of a Victorian drama. So ew ew ew and stuff.
Yes, it is revoltingly true, the story is original. But the plot, although intriguing at first, slowly fizzled out like a steamed lobster on a long summer night . Granted, Juanita McMahon, the narrator, does a pretty good job, but it didn’t make up for the never-ending blah blah blah, deadly repetitions of doom and one-dimensional characters. So, all in all, I’d say:
From the first chapter, I knew that I not only loved this book, but that it was going to be one of my favourites, one of those that feels like it has imprinted itself on you. I simply adored everything about it. It's a book that I want to press everyone to read, because I think it's a perfect book -- even though realistically I realise that my idea of a perfect book may not be your idea of a perfect book.
This is divided into three parts, all wonderful, though the third was my favourite. I don't want to venture into the plot, because I'd hate to give anything away. It's London, 1862. A scheme is hatched. You get one side, then the other. I thought it was brilliant. I tried to make the book last as long as I possibly could because I didn't want to stop reading it. I will probably reread it soon. I also want to find the BBC movie of it, as well as the film, 'The Handmaiden' which is based on the novel (or inspired by the novel, I'm not certain which). I'll definitely be reading more books by Sarah Waters as well.
4.5/5. I feel like the best way to describe this book is twisted. The moment you think you have it all figured out, Sarah Waters is like "nope… you don't." I like that the blurb tells only the very basic foundations of this novel, so you know very little going into it and get swept along with the story. And that story is quite dark, very Victorian and grimy, but also fun in a way and even (dare I say it?) pretty sexy. You can tell Sarah Waters really enjoys the act of storytelling, of setting a scene and creating atmosphere, of leading the reader along one path only to then take it in a direction they weren't expecting. I personally thought the first half was a bit stronger than the second one, which is why I didn't end up giving it full five stars. Overall, this is 100% worth a read though and the perfect novel to get lost in on gloomy autumn days.