Back in the days when I treated myself regularly from the Quality Paperback Book Club monthly mailings, I got Sarah Waters' Fingersmith for my shelves - and it's one of my all-time favorites.
The word inevitably used to describe this book is "Dickensian," and for good reason. Set among a gang of London pickpockets, or "fingersmiths," characters like Gentleman the society thief and Mrs. Sucksby the baby farmer bring to mind Oliver Twist, and the setting and tale of swapped identities put the story squarely in the realm of 19th century fiction.
The book is told in separate sections by the two main characters, Sue Trinder and Maud Lilly. It starts off in Sue's voice, as she goes out to help Gentleman swindle money from rich Mr. Lilly by marrying heiress Maud and then dumping her in the insane asylum. Along the way, Sue starts feeling more for Maud than for Gentleman.
About a third of the way through the book, I was finding it enjoyable, but a tad bit gentle; and wondering what could possibly happen to fill the rest of the pages. And then suddenly, the plot twisted, Maud Lilly was revealed to be other than she seemed, and I couldn't put the story down until I knew how it ended.
One thing a bit less than Dickensian about the book is the romantic involvement of the two lead characters, and the discover of what old Mr. Lilly was actually up to in his library. (I can only imagine the Victorian public at large would have been shocked if Dickens indulged in such a direct treatment of lesbianism; although forms of lesbian and pornographic writings were being published at the time - probably in discreet brown wrappers.) It's a modern and gently erotic twist on Dickens that I loved.
I was such a fan, in fact, that I went on read Waters' Tipping the Velvet and The Night Watch in hopes of a repeat performance. There was nothing wrong with either of the books...but Tipping the Velvet was much more bawdy, and The Night Watch more of a 20th-century period piece; and both were much less plot-driven, the factor that made Sue Trinder and Maud Lilly's erotic relationship more a supporting role than the main attraction, and what made Fingersmith such a riveting read.
And, in fact, the plot surprises made it worth turning around and rereading immediately - a rare event, with so many books vying for attention on my "To Read," list.
What did you think of this review?