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This review is from: Fingersmith (Hardcover)
It is 1862. Sue is an orphan, her mother hanged for murder, who has been brought up by Mrs Sucksby and her little gang of thieves - she's a "fingersmith", a pickpocket. One of the gang, "Gentleman", has a plan to marry a lady, Maud Lilly - the niece of a man he is binding prints for, who is the heiress to a great fortune. Sue is employed as a maid to Maud Lilly, to help Gentleman elope with her, and, when the time comes, leave her in a madhouse and take her inheritance. For this Sue is promised £2,000.
But that's only the very beginning of the book - there are many ups and downs and twists to the plot as the novel progresses.
I hadn't read anything by Sarah Waters before, so some aspects of this book came as a bit of a surprise to me. The novel starts off like a cross between Oliver Twist and Jane Eyre, so sudden outbursts of strong language come as a bit of a shock. With the appearance of a tasteful lesbian episode, graphic depictions of grim Victorian asylums, libraries and dark little shops dealing with collections of erotica it becomes less Dickensian and more like the movie "Quills". The descriptions of Victorian London are excellent. There is a real feeling for the dark, narrow, filthy streets of London of the period and of the fetid swill of the Thames. Dealing in the milieu of seedy bookshops and erotic literature, lends the book a further sleazy aspect.
If the plot's dramatic twists and developments are a little unconvincing, it is the author's assurance in the handling of the characters that carries it off and makes you want to believe them. Even if the character-types are a little stereotypical and Dickensian, the characters themselves are well-developed. No-one is an out and out villain - each character has their own personal motivations and these change as circumstances change. We see characters differently as the novel progresses and feel a certain sympathy for each of them in their predicaments.
It's not exactly a conventional plot, or a romantic period bodice-ripper as might have been expected - or rather it is quite conventional, but it's just the twist that the female protagonist couldn't care less about the handsome rougue of a male suitor but is attracted to her maid instead, that makes "Fingersmith" a little bit different. From the reviews I have read of her other books, this will no doubt please fans of Sarah Waters. It is well-written, an enjoyable Victorian adventure, a page-turner with a ludicrously convoluted and, frankly, unbelievable plot that twists and turns just when you think you know where it's going and keeps you hanging in there for the resolution to the terrible predicaments that both main characters find themselves in. A good and very enjoyable read.