on 24 February 2002
Having read "Tipping the Velvet" I was expecting a lot of colour, frivolity and fun from "Affinity". Even though I'd read it was set in a prison I awaited a Victorian "Bad Girls". However it was far from any of these - it was dark, it was psychological and so different from the previous novel. Subtle and discreet the reader is slowly drawn into Affinity and the world of Millbank, just as Margaret is drawn to Selina and however hard you try to resist this pull - you end up not just "wanting" to believe in the "magic" but like Miss Prior "NEEDING TO". I recommend this novel even though a lot of people prefer "Tipping the Velvet" I loved the repression and wanting in "Affinity" - Sara Waters explores that human need to believe in someone or something and she does this superbly!
This is the first book by Sarah Waters that I have read. Because of this, I came to the book with few assumptions or expectations. I did,however, hope that the book would live up to the comment on the front that it was "sexy, spooky and stylish". Having now finished it, I can happily say it was all of these things and more.
The story follows Margaret, a young Victorian lady who is close to becoming a spinster. When she is first introduced, the reader is given the impression that something has happened to her - she seems troubled, and there is mention that she has not been 'well'. We later learn that, for some reason, she attempted suicide. Her family seems to think that it would do her good to go to volunteer at a prison, Millbank, to visit the female prisoners. It seems she is to become a sort of confidante to them, if they wish. While this situation in itself is quite interesting, while on one of her visits, Margaret sees one lady who intrigues her. This mysterious lady, Selina Dawes, seems to possess a compelling calmness about her. And, when Margaret first sees Selina in her cell, she is holding a perfect violet in her hands. Where, Margaret wonders, would she have gotten this flower from?
As Margaret learns more about Selina, she discovers that she is a spiritualist, or medium. Her crime involves some kind of alleged abuse against one of her female customers. Margaret, it seems, finds it hard to believe that Selina would be capable of such a crime, and so tries to learn more about her and befriend her - she is drawn to her.
That is a very basic plot. There are many aspects to this novel which make it what it is. I thought Waters has done a fabulous job at describing life in Victorian times; Selina's imprisonment starts to echo Margaret's situation in life and society, as an unmarried woman. The writing is beautiful - there is one passage in particular when Margaret is taken to view the personal belongings of the women, their old clothes, dresses and hair. Margaret likens this room to a tomb - the boxes with all their belongings in are said to remind her of small coffins for babies. It is quite harrowing.
The tension in the book is built up brilliantly too. You know that something horrible is going to happen, so in a way the end is not such a great surprise. I think the relationship between Selina and Margaret is also dealt with very well. There is a very touching part where they are discussing love, and Selina talks about souls having an affinity to each other:-
'"How will a person know, Selina, when the soul that has the affinity with hers is near it?"
'She answered, "She will know. Does she look for air, before she breathes it? This love will be guided to her; and when it comes, she will know. And she will do anything to keep that love about her, then. Because to lose it will be like a death to her.'" (p.210-211)
It is certainly a beautiful idea, and one that brings a lot to the story.
I thought this novel was excellent. It has made me want to read other books by Waters. I just hope that they are as good as this!
on 29 November 2003
I bought this book after having finished 'Fingersmith', which I rate inside my top 25 book; I found Water's writing extremely gripping and reminiscent of old Victorian novels. I expected something equally exciting when I began to read 'Affinity'.
How wrong I was....at the beginning.
At first, I found the book quite tedious, as it moved at a rather slow pace, with too many descriptions of the prison and Margaret's house in Cheyne Walk.
After the first 150 pages, however it began to draw me in, with the exciting occurences. The descriptions did not come as often and I did not feel tired or compelled to shut the book to start a new one. The characters became more enticing; instead of skimming blankly over passages illustrating their feelings read them closely and felt for said characters. I was drawn into the story and the plot, that I almost believed everything (well, maybe not everything)said.Indeed the end was extremely surprising and shocking.
After the first half, a very enticing and well written book. Expect great things from Ms Waters - even better than 'Fingersmith' - in the future.
on 31 May 1999
I brought "Affinity" after reading "Tipping the Velvet" (also an astounding read). The book describes a two year time frame of events--one that occurs in the present and the other describing the events that led to the present.
It is set in the late 1800's, in London, England. Sarah Water's takes you on a fascinating journey of intrigue, devotion, deception, passion, etc., etc.--it's all here. It is written in a marvelously descriptive text that lures you in in such a manner that you simply cannot put the book down. Water's slowly drops hints along the way, and never allows the reader to guess at any outcome of events.
I was slightly disappointed by (what seemed like) the sudden ending of the book. But only disappointed because I was so utterly convinced of the inevitable outcome (I felt as bewildered as Miss Prior). I have not been surprised by a plot/book/author for a very long time.
I highly recommend "Tipping the Velvet" and "Affinity." I assure you, in reading these books, you will be in skilled hands.
This is a story of a love which develops between a lady visitor to Millbank prison and a prisoner who is a medium, mostly told in the form of a diary written by the lady.
There is an unusually good start to the book. The reader is taken straight into the action and the story is set up for the rest of the book.
Using the eyes of the lady, Margaret Prior, the book works well to describe the prison in all its horror from an outsiders view. The desriptions of the prison are a strong element of the book and the hardness works as a contrast to the tenderness of the feelings that Margaret relates in her diary.
Writing in a diary makes the story feel very personal and it is written cleverly. Even the dialogue is reported as Margaret hears it rather than as it actually happened.
The first half of the book is wonderful but then the plot seems to run out and it feels as though the book is being strung out until the clever ending when it picks up again. At the end I could not put it down and had to find out what had happened - shame about the lull in the middle of the book.
Compared to her other books, this is not Sarah Waters best but still it is a very accomplished novel.
on 29 December 2001
Wow, what can I say, Sarah Waters has done it again only this time with such a stroke of genius you will be amazed! How brillinatly she lulls you into a false sense of familiarity; soothing you to believe that "Affinity" is just another twist on her previous work of art "Tipping the Velvet". However, heed her warnings when our new protaganist warns that "this journal will not be like the last". No, this time she will avoid the desperate yearnings of the heart and focus on more practical things. Well of course I began to lose sight of that when the author guided me so beautifully through the thoughts and longings of young Margaret Prior as she befriends the women at the dark and hellish Millbank prison. But Sarah Waters' imagery and use of language is cleverly manipulative. Her frequent reference to an image of melting wax reflects how changable our story really is - nothing is as it seems.
Such a wonderful read I had to consume the whole story in one sitting and after joyfully kicking myself at its ending, took pure delight in reading it over again with the benefit of hindsight.
This is the story of two women, both prisoners in their own different ways and drawn together by a special bond - their 'affinity'.
Margaret Prior is a single woman of twenty nine who, following the death of her father, begins visiting London's Millbank Prison as a Lady Visitor. Lady Visitors were women who voluntarily visited prisoners with the aim of befriending them and giving them comfort during the time of their imprisonment. However, Margaret is in need of some friendship and comfort herself. From her very first visit, she finds herself strangely drawn to Selina Dawes, a young spiritualist imprisoned for assault after one of her spiritualism sessions goes badly wrong, leaving a woman dead and a girl traumatised. Selina blames her 'control spirit', Peter Quick, for what happened, but is she telling the truth? Throughout the story, the reader is made to wonder whether Selina really has the powers she claims to have or if Margaret is the victim of an elaborate hoax.
The book is told in the form of diary entries - Margaret's longer sections being interspersed with Selina's shorter ones. Margaret's diary entries are very bleak and miserable, as she is trying to cope not only with the loss of her father, but also with her feelings for both Selina and her sister-in-law Helen, the expectations of her domineering mother, and the sense of being 'left behind' that she experiences when her younger sister gets married and leaves home. Selina's sections of the story are very vague and confusing and I didn't fully understand them until I went back and read them again after reaching the end of the book.
I enjoyed learning about life in a Victorian prison, as it's not something I've read about in so much detail before. Waters does a wonderful job of conveying the oppressive atmosphere of Millbank, with its labyrinthine corridors and gloomy wards.
I haven't read all of Sarah Waters' books yet so I can't really say where Affinity stands in comparison to her others, but I thought it was an excellent book - dark, suspenseful, moving and with some passages that were genuinely spooky.
on 22 November 2009
Margaret Prior is a very proper young Englishwoman. She is a Lady Visitor at Millbank prison; meant to show the wayward ladies how to behave themselves in an upright, appropriate fashion. One prisoner intrigues her more than the others, and this is where our story takes flight.
Sarah Waters has a masterful grasp of Victorian London - the deadly smog, the dismal prison system, and the severely limited opportunities for women. The world of spiritualists and their craft is also explored in some detail. Waters writes in a style that pulled me in and refused to let me go until the final page was turned, at which point the story still wouldn't release me. I've spent a great deal of time since finishing the book, thinking about its twists and turns and how I might have reacted to some of the situations in which Miss Prior found herself. I was thoroughly surprised by the ending (a rare feat nowadays) and I cared a great deal about the main characters.
If this is an indication of Sarah Waters' writing style, I'm very excited to read her other novels. An author with this sort of gift for storytelling comes along but rarely, and should be celebrated.
on 28 March 2011
I have never read any work by Sarah Waters before and have had no recommendations about her work to set any expectations by. It is certainly not for you, if you are looking for a light-hearted, easy to read story, with a happy ever after ending. Just the opposite. This a deep, mysterious and intricate story, which is actually fairly disturbing. It is however a brilliantly written story, which draws you in from the very first page and doesn't let you go again, until the very last word has been finished. It deals with Lesbianism, in a time when the punishment for such an act, would have been horrific, particularly if you were a `lady', turning the book into part wrenching love story. A tale of power and possession, that really makes you want to believe in `magic', the further drawn into the story you become. I must admit that I never saw the twist in the end coming and had thought it would conclude in quite a different way; but it worked just right in bringing the saga to a natural conclusion.
on 3 April 2000
I'd recommend that you look at this book as a member of a reading group or force your partner to read it after you because when you finish you'll be bursting to talk about it. Unfortunately, to talk about it is to completely ruin it for anyone who has not read it. Sarah Waters is a great find for me, I loved her previous book, 'Tipping The Velvet' and have been eagerly awaiting her second novel for some time. 'Affinity' certainly doesnot fail to deliver. Whilst Tipping The Velvet takes you on a bawdy romp, this novel slowly and perhaps a little cruelly, draws you in to the highly charged, emotional world of Margaret Prior and Spiritualism. Even the most hardened cynic will want to believe in magic. If you're looking for a coming out book, a sexy detective romp, an airport novel don't read this book - you'll be disappointed. This book is for those who like to shut out the world and dive into a book, who cannot do anything else until that book is read and then when it is, can't talk to anyone unless they too have read it. Pick it up and read it in one sitting but don't leave it until late at night to finish it - you'll never get to sleep !