Book Review: Fingersmith-Sarah Waters

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Scandal wrapped in twisting lies, a hidden countryside manor, and a smoky London, make for a novel that is worth sifting through. Waters does it again with her Victorian setting, with of course two lovers at the center of the novel. Although the novel is a hefty 582 pages long, towards the end, you wont even realize how many pages you’ve sifted through as the mystery pulls you in. It’s no secret Sarah Waters  loves a good scandal and is particularly noted for the use of lesbian lovers during the Victorian age. I admire how Waters writes two female lovers during a time where that subject was quite taboo and frowned upon. Fingersmith has been adapted to  film one in English and recently a  South Korean rendition of the movie called 아가씨(Handmaiden). A beautiful novel that has many hidden untruths, Fingersmith is definitely a Waters novel that shouldn’t be overlooked.

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South Korean adaptation 아가씨
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BBC two part series Fingersmith

Susan Sue Trinder, an orphan, is raised in the mist of lower working class and grows up amongst thieves and traders and those whose work must be hid from the law. Her home includes interesting characters, and under the matriarchy of Mrs. Sucksby,  they live a simple yet duplicitous life. Sue’s life changes from one of plebian status to a being lady’s maid to a wealthy young women of an astute country side manor. The plan to change Sue’s life is conducted by a man, Richard Rivers (Gentleman as the London streets deem him) as he has the idea to take Sue to be the  of a woman and convince her to marry Mr.Rivers, thus swindling her of her inheritance. Sue agrees, and together both her and  Mr. Rivers set off to the country. It is here where we meet Maud, a simple woman living a recluse life with her uncle. Maud is made to accompany her uncle with writing certain “ribald” texts. When Maud and Sue and Mr. Rivers meet, the plan comes to fruition and the relationship between  the women grow deeper. The story of course becomes more contorted as the scheme to take Maud’s fortune goes awry. The novel is very reminiscent of all of Water’s writing with plot twists, loose characters, and a very befitting Victorian romance.

I’ve been a long time fan of Sarah Waters and I really admire her writing style. She sticks to what she knows and does a fantastic job at it. The novel is broken into thirds told from the different perspectives of the two women. Sue’s perspective was the most interesting in my opinion, and it offered more of the twisted plot. Water’s does well in setting the scene and the supposed disposition of the characters. Fingersmith has been referred to as Dickens-esque novel, and I would agree that Sarah Waters does a fine job in emulating yet creating a new Victorian London. This novel wasn’t my favorite of hers, but I did enjoy the mass of it. It takes a while to get through the first third, and it is quite slow. I had high expectations of the  novel after viewing the South Korean movie version 아가씨, but I was a little disappointed in the novel as it read dry and dull, leaving  me feeling lackluster at the end. Waters could have done more in this novel to make it more exciting, but it fell short with often boring repetition and characters who were less than fascinating. The character development doesn’t extend beneath surface level, and the “villainy” is scooped together and placed towards the end, making the reader dredge through the first half of the novel, being teased for what is to come. While I wouldn’t recommend to the general reader, I would suggest it to a person who like Victorian literature or is a Charles Dickens fan.

 

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