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on 18 August 2016
An extraordinary novel. Hugely readable. Dickens, Willie Collins, plus a surfeit of dark realism. Melodramatic, Gothic, yes, but a gripping tale of a sensual, intelligent woman's personal Odyssey.
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on 27 September 2017
This is a GREAT novel. Amazing stuff.
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on 1 June 2017
This is an extraordinary novel, a true masterpiece
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on 12 July 2014
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 April 2011
This book has garnered ecstatic reviews... but is it really that good? Well, partly. Despite the 800+ pages, it really is a fast read because we are immersed in the story told in Faber's fluent, pliant prose. But on finishing the book, I was left feeling a little unsatisfied.

Billed as a C21st version of the C19th novel, this engages with C19th literature(Dickens, Thackeray, the Brontës, Wilkie Collins, East Lynne) as much as it does with the C19th itself and is, to some extent, negotiating with what is already a representation, rather than any kind of `reality'. This isn't a book which Dickens, for example, could have written because it is steeped in `our' sensibility, rather than his, replete with historical hindsight and C21st knowledge and cultural values. As such, it tells us more about our version of the C19th than offering any kind of historical realism, however provisional that might be. That's not a criticism of the book, of course, and I would guess that Faber is completely aware of his own historicity, flagged particularly in the opening where the text speaks directly to us as readers in an alien world.

I guess after having read the reviews I hoped for a meatier story: at heart this offers us two rather predictable tales of a sexual triangle between husband/wife/prostitute-mistress, and a thwarted love affair tainted by what we see as a Victorian hang-up about sex.

So this is undoubtedly well-written and romps along effortlessly, subverting other Victorian stories as it goes. I certainly enjoyed reading it, it's entertaining, pleasurable and witty in parts - but I liked this, rather than loved it.

ps. The Kindle version has the rather irritating tick of not inserting gaps between paragraphs where the narrative switches to a different view or part of the story - not a huge problem but a niggle all the same.
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on 4 June 2011
I've considered reading this book before, but been put off by length and lack of time with too much else to read. I succumbed on a whim whilst browsing the Kindle bestseller lists, not having seen the TV version. I didn't take to it at first: the style felt too contrived and I suspected a boringly titillating romp in the cunning guise of a soft-feminist "expose" of "real" Victorian life. However, it turned out to be well worth plodding on. It grew on me as I continued past the distasteful misogyny of some of the early scenes (that is, on the part of the characters, not the author, who I now take to be a man with a sympathetic voice). I didn't find it unputdownable until something like the last quarter, but unlike some reviewers, I was not disappointed by the ending: it seemed appropriate.

The female characters are the interesting ones. The men get shorter shrift as bullies, brutes, airhead toffs, perverts and misguided eccentrics. The three main women, though - Sugar, Agnes and Mrs Emmeline Fox - are fully three-dimensional, and each gains our sympathy despite her particular flaws and less than pleasant aspects. A prostitute, a spoiled, apparently unfeeling society wife, a campaigning do-gooder: not much in common, then. Yet together, they illustrate more about the lot of women in 19th-C London than pretty much any other book I've read, but also suggest that women could, against the odds, potentially find themselves empowered to escape their destiny. I'm not sure how many Sugars there might have been in real life - how did she learn to read and write, how did she get access to her books and writing materials? But still, not impossible.

No point giving away the plot for anyone who doesn't know much of it. I'd just recommend you find the time, perhaps as a holiday read, and get stuck in. It's a thought-provoking novel that eventually engrosses and takes you well beyond the stereotypes.
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on 25 May 2011
I thoroughly enjoyed this. I was drawn in by the clever device Faber uses speaking directly to the reader, and just as it was about to become supremely annoying, it disappeared.
Is this a morality tale ? Definitely. But what a tale. All the huge characters bar one, are focussed on their own success, safety, sex, and money. But what of happiness? It is fleeting, glimpsed in back alleyways, after sex, when money changes hands, and sadly at one spectacular Christmas. Only poor Agnes, wife of the philandering protagonist, William, has no clue what is going on, or how ill she is. Again an interesting twist that we, as readers, are the only ones who know what the real problem is, adding a third dimension to everyone's actions.
This is a huge reveal of Victorian life from the gutter up, or maybe in this Instance down. All the smells and bodily functions are here. I did skip bits, I confess, when two characters wallowed in their knowledge of the bible and the search for the Truth and rescuing prostitutes.
Sugar, the prostitute who stars in this tale is a complex psychotic character, who stood no chance from the age of 14. A manipulator,not quite the 'Tart with a heart.'
I yearned for happiness for 6 year old Sophie, after her years in the nursery. I will let you judge whether this happened.
Would it scared your granny, oh yes. 9/10 on the don;t give to your granny for Christmas but the again.....
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on 5 June 2011
So many reviews already written about this book that I was not going to add my four pennyworth! However, - having just finished this book I feel I have to....

Two words sum this book up - BRILLIANT MASTERPIECE.

If you have gone into this review section still wondering whether to buy it, hesitate no longer! Without doubt the best book you will read this year if not this decade.

Actually felt as if I were one of the characters in the story, privvy to such personal insight to everyone's storyline. One could be forgiven for feeling as though being part of this story is as real (if not more so) than every day life. BUY!
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on 29 June 2017
Well written and captures your interest enough to keep going but ultimately goes nowhere. The ending, unlike anything else in the book brief to the point of being non existent. Read it at your pearl.
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on 18 October 2016
Even though this book is over 800 pages, I still loved it. The author brought the reader back to England during the Victorian era. Each character was so fascinating I couldn't put the book down. I would highly recommend this book particularly for women.
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