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4.1 out of 5 stars148
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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!!!
JANA
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on 15 November 2001
To say that this book is a "page turner" is the understatement of the year. Never have i enjoyed a novel so much,or been interested in the trails and tribulations of a character as i was in following Nans journey through her self discovery.
The sights and sounds of Victorian England literally jump off the page;the poverty and predudice,the awakening of sexuality so beautifully described and the heartbreak of loss and the aftermath so wonderfully handled.
If you intend to buy one book this year,as I did,Sarah Waters' first novel must be the one!
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on 22 February 2003
Sarah Waters manages to tell us a beautiful story which spins around love and lust framed in XIX century England, with its changing attitudes towards women. It is really a portrait of the search of oneself in a difficult world which does not like what is "different".
Nancy moves to London as Kitty's dresser, with whom she has fallen in love, not really understanding what love between women is. She would have never guessed what that journey had in stalls for her: the search for herself, for a life of her own, for friendship and for love. She walks the streets "renting", she is "kept" for a few years by a rich woman, she loses everything more than once, and she eventually gains what she had all along been waiting for.
Beautifully written, the book keeps you hooked on to it, hoping all along that Nan will manage not only to survive but to finally find her place in a turn of the century world.
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on 3 March 2003
This has to be one of my favourites books. I have read it numerous times and can never put it down! It tells the story of a girl of 18 and how she grows. It tells of her first love, and her true love. It shows how love can be many different things, Hidden, lust of soft and tender. The characters are all accesable and you can relate to them well. By the end of the book you will have laughed, cried and been very shocked. This is a great book and i would recomend it to anyone, lesbian or not!
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 7 October 2007
It's reputation as a Victorian lesbian bodice ripper having preceded it, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Tipping the Velvet. I needn't have worried - it is an extremely well written book, which drew me into the story and kept me intrigued from the very start.

The main topic of the story is lesbianism in the 1890s, and as such it is pretty graphic at many points. Therefore readers who are upset by homosexuality or descriptive sex scenes of any kind should avoid this book. However, it is very well written with a strong cast of interesting characters and plenty of twists and turns in the plot.

I did feel that the story lost some of its momentum in parts 2 and 3, but it was still enjoyable and didn't drag. The ending worked well, and I was left feeling pleased I'd given the book a chance. I would recommend this to any reader over 16, as long as they aren't worried by the sex scenes.
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on 20 December 1998
This book is truly a captivating read! From the moment you meet 18-year old Nan, dreaming of the vaudeville at an English seaside resort in the 1880s, to the close of the book in London five years later, you love the story and don't want to put it down. A guilt-free coming-out story of a nineteenth century "tom" it's a romp and a delight to read. Full of eroticism and true love, as well as adventures on the stage and in high society plus some social politics. I was attracted to the novel by a review in The Online Mirror, which stated: "Imagine Jeanette Winterson, on a good day,collaborating with Judith Butler to pen a sapphic Moll Flanders. Could this be a new genre? The bawdy picaresque novel? Whatever it is, take it with you. It's gorgeous ." I agree! Now I'm looking forward to Sarah Waters' next novel!
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on 8 November 2002
Now when people ask me the question: what is your favourite novel of all time I have an answer. No modern writer captures the readers attention and imagination like Sarah Waters does in this novel. You feel part of Nan's world and even when you finish the book you will see the world through her eyes as well as your own - as this book stays with you. It is unquestionably fantastic - it is about growth and the courage to be yourself. Be true to yourself and buy this book.
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on 14 April 2007
I was looking at the cover of this book for a while, and you know what they say . . never judge, and so on, but I did and it changed me. I could not put it down at all!! Every spare minute I had I was reading it. It may me cry in parts and my heart pound with the excitement of others. I was upset when it ended because I wanted to read more and more. I got the DVD of the BBC series and that kept the spirit going. I still after 6 months like to watch it and feel the historical charm and sensuality that comes from the amazing characters. It takes me back to a time I wich I could have been around in.
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on 19 April 2002
I bought Tipping the Velvet after reading the other reviews on Amazon - and I'm glad I did. I enjoyed every page of it, there wasn't a boring moment in it! Don't let the fact that it's set in the Victorian era put you off. And just because the main character is a lesbian does not mean that there are sex scenes on every page that get more and more sordid as the book goes on (like a lot of lesbian books that I've read). I loved the music hall parts, and the characters that Nan meets as she goes from innocent oyster girl to rent boy to tom.
I would recommend this to anyone.
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VINE VOICEon 25 February 2010
Tipping the Velvet is a colourful and lively novel in the tradition of feminist greats such as Carter's Wise Children and Woolf's Orlando. This style makes it quite a different type of novel to Waters' later works such as Fingersmith and the Little Stranger, despite its 19th century setting.

The novel is a bawdy yarn and certainly not for the prudish. There's plenty of sex, but it's never gratuitous and is always closely tied into the plot. Waters makes lesbian London of the 1890s really come alive. The unidealised characters are well crafted and the descriptions of music halls and mansions vivid and memorable. The novel is extremely funny at times, but can also be melancholy.

Tipping the Velvet loses some of its sparkle during the last third and the conclusion seems a little false, but overall its a great novel and well worth a read.
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