Top positive review
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A Bold, Bawdy, Beautiful Novel Of Victorian London!
on 14 February 2005
I was skeptical when I picked up "Tipping The Velvet" at a local bookstore. I do not like labels, and Sarah Waters's first novel had been touted by the press, and readers alike, as a "lesbian novel," whatever that means. However, the book's synopsis on the back cover, drew me in and I took a chance and bought it. I am so glad that I did. What a delight! This is a historical novel, set in a Victorian England that few have glimpsed. And "Tipping The Velvet" allows us to view it all, center stage. It is a story peopled with characters that are fleshed out so believably, it is almost like reading with 3-D glasses. The characters, especially Nancy Astley, come right off the page and have the capacity to touch your heart and make you care...deeply.
Nancy is born and raised in an English seaside resort where her parents own an oyster restaurant, and Nancy can shuck with the best of them. She seems perfectly content with her lot in life, loves her family and imagines that someday she will marry one of the neighborhood boys and have a family of her own. During the summer months, when business is booming, Nancy frequents a nearby town's music hall for entertainment. Thus Passion enters her life with a capital "P."
Nancy sees a male impersonator perform for the first time on an evening excursion to the hall. Not just any male impersonator...but the ever so seductive Miss Kitty Butler. Nance is entranced and obsessed with Kitty. She schemes to meet the object of her devotion and becomes first, Kitty's friend, then her employee/girl Friday. Her once normal life is turned topsy-turvy, filled with passionate fantasies. Her family is delighted with Kitty "the celebrity" friend, and accepts her completely. However, Alice, Nancy's sister, and until recently her best friend, is hostile and suspicious of the relationship between her sister and the performer. With the changing seasons, business falls off and Kitty is on the move. She takes Nancy with her to a newer and bigger gig in London, where our heroine loses her innocence, in more ways than one. Adventure, disillusionment and major heartbreak loom on the horizon for our Nancy - until she finds herself reaching rock bottom. If you don't know what "rock bottom," sometimes called "the pits," is in Victorian England, you may want to reread Dickens.
It takes seven years for Nancy to climb out of the pit she fell into, (or was she pushed?), and fashion a life for herself. Her attempts to earn a living wage are outrageous, fascinating and ingenious. The folks she meets along the way are absolute originals. The take on London's local color, sexual and socialist politics, and social and sexual mores are delicious.
Sarah Waters is an extraordinary writer and teller of tales. This is so much more than a book about a woman's sexuality...although sexuality is an important aspect of the novel. Ms. Waters writes about the fight for selfhood and independence in a world where these terms mean little, especially for a female. I just couldn't put this one down and look forward to reading more work by Ms. Waters. I give this my most highly recommended seal of approval!!!