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The Crimson Petal and the White [Paperback]

Michel Faber
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (243 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 July 2010
Step into Victorian London and meet our heroine, Sugar - a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can - and the host of unforgettable characters that make up her world.

Product details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd; Reprint edition (1 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847678939
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847678935
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (243 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 140,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Although it's billed as "the first great 19th-century novel of the 21st century," The Crimson Petal and the White is anything but Victorian. It's the story of a well-read London prostitute named Sugar, who spends her free hours composing a violent, pornographic screed against men. Michel Faber's dazzling second novel dares to go where George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss and the works of Charles Dickens could not. We learn about the positions and orifices that Sugar and her clients favour, about her lingering skin condition, and about the suspect ingredients of her prophylactic douches. Still, Sugar believes she can make a better life for herself.

When she is taken up by a wealthy man, the perfumer William Rackham, her wings are clipped and she must balance financial security against the obvious servitude of her position. The physical risks and hardships of Sugar's life (and the even harder "honest" life she would have led as a factory worker) contrast--yet not entirely--with the medical mistreatment of her benefactor's wife, Agnes, and beautifully underscore Faber's emphasis on class and sexual politics.

In theme and treatment, this is a novel that Virginia Woolf might have written, had she been born 70 years later. The language, however, is Faber's own--brisk and elastic--and, after an awkward opening, the plethora of detail he offers (costume, food, manners, cheap stage performances, the London streets) slides effortlessly into his forward-moving sentences. When Agnes goes mad, for instance, "she sings on and on, while the house is discreetly dusted all around her and, in the concealed and subterranean kitchen, a naked duck, limp and faintly steaming, spreads its pimpled legs on a draining board." Despite its 800-plus pages, The Crimson Petal and the White turns out to be a quick read, since it is truly impossible to put down. --Regina Marler, --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


'This is an unputdownable book; there is no choice but to give in to this most unbelievably pleasurable of narrative rides. From Pointillism to broad brushstroke bravura, the prose seems to be on some benign, timed-release speed: its pace in unflagging, its onward rush irresistible... Faber's take on the 19th - century English novel is a heady and intoxicating mixture of affection, respect and scabrous resistance.' The Times

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
96 of 100 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Darkly brilliant Victoriana 21 April 2011
By Joanne Sheppard TOP 1000 REVIEWER
The Crimson Petal and the White is currently being serialised by the BBC, and a great adaptation it is too. But if you don't read the book, you'll be seriously missing out.

It's a hefty commitment at well over 800 pages, but apart from the sheer weight of it straining my wrists, it couldn't have been less of a chore to read. From the opening pages, in which a sly, conspiratorial narrator invites the reader to spy, voyeur-like, on the characters, to the ambiguous, startling conclusion, I was gripped by this dark Victorian tale.

The apparently cold-hearted prostitute Sugar, largely unloved, frequently unlovely and often unlovable, is a dream of a character. She is complicated, ambiguous and contradictory, and yet I found it impossible not to cheer her on even at the height of her scheming. William Rackham, the weak-willed perfume manufacturer who 'buys' her from her increasingly terrifying mother and madam, Mrs Castaway, is absurd and dangerous by turns. In fact, William is a living embodiment of the saying 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. His position as a wealthy man in a 19th century patriarchy - a position he only reaches in the first place with Sugar as both his motivation and unofficial assistant - means that his snap decisions and capricious whims can have a horrifying effect, sometimes unwitting and sometimes deliberate, on the women around him. Casually neglecting his disappointingly female offspring and simultaneously idolising and despising his disturbed young wife Agnes, he often professes to be in love with Sugar - but will he tire of her one day and put her to one side, just as he shuts away his inconvenient wife and child?
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105 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Example of Superior Period Fiction 12 Feb 2004
By Ms. V. Hoyle VINE VOICE
Set in Victorian London, peopled by prositutes, madams, street sellers, batchelors, widows, Perfume manufacturers, hysterics and governnesses, "The Crimson Petal and the White" is everything it promises to be on the first page - an eye-opening journey and a dirty, jolting, wholly satisfying ride at that.
Its very difficult to express the novel's quality and density. Undoubtedly it is Faber's "magnum opus" to date, a startling 800+ page tome rather than his usual slick, moderate volumes. Furthermore, not a single page is superfluous - it surrenders to compelling detail and atmosphere, while still conveying a developing sense of character and an adequate pace of plot - the marriage of which is rarely accomplished with the good grace that "Crimson Petal" displays.
The story is at once convuluted, in that it follows a number of sensational and shocking individuals over one year of their lives, and incredibly simple, in that nothing resembling a contrived plotline is evident. The principals under examination are without exception well rounded protagonists - centred around William Rackham, the up-and-coming heir of a booming perfume manufacturer, they include his disturbed wife Agnes; the enigmatic Sugar, a prostitute who becomes his mistress and his ascetic, pious brother Henry. All of them undergo the painful, and wonderful, events demanded by the movement of time, and the changes of the Victorian social environment.
The Victorian era is deliciously invoked by Faber, who appears to have conducted exhaustive research both into the social and economic realities of the period. Equally, the experiences of his characters are realistically approached and at no time does the novel require a leap of imaginative faith.
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104 of 109 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 800 pages, but I still wanted more! 19 Sep 2002
Michel Faber's loose, baggy monster of a book captures the great narrative drive of classic Victorian storytellers, and wears its influences fairly openly. Sugar, the heroine, has an instinct for self-preservation as intuitive as Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp. The densely researched details of perfume manufacturing recall George Eliot's quarrying for "Middlemarch". And the frank sexual content will probably have Andrew Davies rubbing his hands with glee if he gets the chance to adapt it for the screen, as he's done with Sarah Waters' "Tipping the Velvet".
Michel Faber gives us a Victorian Christmas with all the trimmings, nights in whorehouses and opera houses, and some truly disgusting sounding Victorian meals... which seem worse, oddly enough, than the contraceptive routines he details the women in the book putting themselves through. He also writes wonderfully about being a six year old in 1875.
This took twenty years to write and research ; I hope a sequel won't take so long to complete!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An evocation of Victorian London 22 July 2009
A long, leisurely-paced book written in the expansive style of the Victorian novel. The title, drawn from Tennyson, contrasts the shrewd, manipulative Sugar, a knowing 19 year-old prostitute, with the confused innocence of Agnes, mentally-ill wife of her lover, William Rackham. In her new role as a 'kept woman', Sugar moves from a Silver Street brothel run by her mother Mrs Castaway to the gentility of the suburbs. In this more privileged environment Sugar shed most of her hatreds as she develops into a sensitive and compassionate woman. The very ambiguous ending of the novel at least expresses her empathy with Agnes and William's daughter, Sophie, both of whom, like Sugar herself ultimately, have suffered at Rackham's hands.

Faber's novel conjures up the world of mid-Victorian London, its dirt and squalor and the flower-girls, street urchins and prostitutes that frequented its streets. This is contrasted with the bourgeois world of William, an aspiring man of business: it is hinted throughout the book that he is not the ideal employer. Then there is the ascetic elder brother Henry and his disciple Emmeline, zealous searchers for virtue, and the raffish men about town who prey on the fallen women Emmeline is trying to rescue. Faber's historical research seems faultless: Sugar would indeed have heard the premiere of the Verdi Requiem, conducted by the composer in the spring of 1875 as part of his European tour.

A major feature of the novel, emphasising the contrast between glamour and squalor in the narrative, is the way it evokes the various smells of Victorian London, from the ordure of its streets, to the variagated perfumes of Rackham's soaps and lotions, and the natural fragrance of his lavender fields.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite books
I absolutely loved this book. I did not want it to end. It's one of the best books I have read this year (and I do read quite a lot, and lots of different types of fiction), maybe... Read more
Published 16 hours ago by Fozzwick
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
excellent. well written. strong characters. authentic historic context.
Published 11 days ago by L. K. Rowley
5.0 out of 5 stars unputdownable
Well researched, sad, shocking, interesting - a massively enjoyable book. great characters, good story, insightful Victorian aspects cleverly woven into the fiction. Ending... Read more
Published 12 days ago by MJP
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Published 16 days ago by j g hames
4.0 out of 5 stars and hints at the excellent Walter books
Having read Under the Skin, I was keen to explore this and did not find it a quick read as others did. Read more
Published 17 days ago by ActonBaggie
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Very good read I thought
Published 21 days ago by mrs lynda carter
5.0 out of 5 stars Another fantastic book by Michel Faber
I got this book after reading "Under the Skin", eager for more works by this author. The book is so different from Under the Skin that it could be a different author. Read more
Published 1 month ago by ksid
3.0 out of 5 stars No deeper insight
Bought this after seeing the TV version and remaining baffled by some of the characters' actions and choices. Read more
Published 1 month ago by G. Wade
5.0 out of 5 stars Crimson petal and the white
This book although the size for bedtime reading looks daunting, it is a book you do not want to put down.
Published 3 months ago by sue benson
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
The story took my breath away - the twists and developments were very real, the way life surprises one constantly with what it can offer/enforce. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Kate Stoke-on-Trent
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