In late September 1874, Margaret Prior makes her way through the pentagons of London's Millbank Prison, a place of fearful symmetry and endless corridors. This plain woman on the verge of 30 has come to comfort those behind bars, several of whom Waters brings to instant, sad life. And our lady visitor plans to take her role seriously, having recovered from two years of nervous indolence in her family's Chelsea house. One person, however, makes her job a passion. Opening an inspection slit (or "eye" as these devices are known), Margaret hears "a perfect sigh, like a sigh in a story". Peering inward, she's confronted by the most erotic of visions--a woman turned towards the sun, caressing her cheek with a forbidden violet: "As I watched her, she put the flower to her lips, and breathed upon it, and the purple of the petals gave a quiver and seemed to glow..."
The medium Selina Dawes may indeed have the face of a Crivelli angel, but she is in prison for fraud and assault. Suffice to say that the first full encounter between these two very different women is enthralling. "You think spiritualism a kind of fancy," Selina riddles. "Doesn't it seem to you, now that you are here, that anything might be real, since Millbank is?" And soon enough Margaret receives several viable signs of the supernatural: a locket disappears from her room, flowers mysteriously appear and her dazzling friend knows everything about her. Strangest of all, Selina seems to love her.
As Margaret records her weekly forays, her own past comes into focus, notably her plans to travel to Italy with her first love (who is now her sister-in-law). But her current journal, she convinces herself, is to be very different from her last one, which "took as long to burn as human hearts, they say, do take". Meanwhile, Waters offers a narrative two-for-one, placing Margaret's diary cheek by jowl with Selina's chronicle of her pre-Millbank existence. This dispassionate, staccato record initially suggests that we can separate truth from desire. Or can we? What Waters' haunting creation leaves us with is a more painful reality--that knowledge and belief are entirely different things. --Kerry Fried, Amazon.com
Spooky, spellbinding, exquisitely written ... I do believe Waters is on the way to becoming a major literary star (VAL HENNESSY )
A work of intense and atmospheric imagination ... Sarah Waters is ... a kind of feminist Dickens (TELEGRAPH )
Sexy, spooky, stylish, AFFINITY is a wonderful book from any perspective (G. FODEN, GUARDIAN )