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.
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, Amazon.com --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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. Meanwhile their complexifying relationships with one another provide good amounts of dramatic and personal tensions.
Some have found "Crimson Petal"'s content distasteful, even disturbing, and yes, it is a novel in which sex, violence and abuse feature prominently, but I would argue that this is no more than is properly required. At no point is Faber gratuitous or pornographic - harsh and disconcerting some scenes may be, they are hardly unrealistic or unwarrented.
Overall, a glorious triumph in the name of period fiction writing and a tour de force of style and character formulation well deserving of five stars and its international acclaim.
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!
This product's forum
Active discussions in related forums
Search Customer Discussions