Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bookish Thoughts: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder. ~ Opening of Fingersmith


Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
Riverhead, 2002
Fiction; 582 pgs

When I heard about the Fingersmith Read-A-Long hosted by Jennifer of Literate Housewife, I somehow finagled it into my reading schedule for the month of October.  I am so glad I did. I have wanted to try something by Sarah Waters for years. I always figured I would start with Night Watch or The Little Stranger. I knew very little about Fingersmith going into the novel. I knew it was set partially in Victorian London with an orphan as its heroine. An orphan who grew up among thieves. I knew there would be a love story. And perhaps some treachery. I admit, I had high expectations. 

Fingersmith is the story of two women in very different circumstances. There is Susan Trinder, an orphan raised by Mrs. Sucksby who seems to collect babies and farm them out. Then there is Maud Lilly, also an orphan, raised as a lady by her uncle and his staff, who has known little kindness in her life. Susan is raised in love, as if she is Mrs. Sucksby's own, while Maud was not spared the rod growing up and serves her uncle and his dark interests.

One day the Gentleman, a charming con man, walks through Mrs. Sucksby's door with a proposition for Susan "Sue" Trinder. If she will only help him with his most recent venture, she will be paid most handsomely. Sue sees this as an opportunity to repay the people who took her in as an infant and cared for her all these years.  Taking on the role of a ladies' maid, Sue begins working for Maud Lilly, an heiress to a fortune the Gentleman has his eyes on. All Sue has to do is help pave the way for the Gentleman to win Maud's heart, trick her into marrying him, and then steal her fortune.

Sarah Waters' writing is beautiful, and she has an extraordinary gift for weaving together a tale that is intricate, dark and engrossing.  This is one of those books that draws the reader in and stays with the reader even when the book is closed. There is a darkness to the story, a Gothic feel to it and a strong sense of foreboding throughout.

Both Maud and Sue struck me as being quite na├»ve in their own ways. Sue, even living among thieves has led a sheltered life. Maud had for so long been cloistered in her uncle's home and before that the asylum where she was raised in her early years. Sue was a much easier character to like and empathize with, given her situation. She had doubts all along the way of what she was doing and what it would mean for Maud if Sue and the Gentleman succeeded. So, while I did not always agree with the choices she made, I could see why she did what she did as the story progressed.  Maud was more of an enigma, especially in the beginning. The first portion of the novel is told from Sue's perspective and the second lets the reader into Maud's mind, before returning to Sue again in another section. It is with these varying perspectives the reader is allowed a more fuller glimpse into the lives of the two women, their relationship, and their fates as the story unfolds.

The more I learned about Maud, the more obvious it becomes just how much the two women come to mean to each other. Maud has proven she is not the kindest person, capable of cruelty, a product perhaps of the treatment she has received and her circumstances. Maud has known little love in her life, and Sue's kindness is foreign to her. Sue, in trying to be as warm and gentle as possible to gain Maud's trust, comes to care for the woman and want to protect her.

The novel is set in Victorian England, and the author captures the mood of the era well, including the cultural view of women, the divide between the poor and the wealthy and also the institutional side of the time period. It is clear Waters did her research to present as realistic and heart wrenching experience as possible.

Fingersmith was all the things I imagined it would be. Romantic and heartbreaking, full of betrayal and family secrets. Atmospheric. The novel was full of surprises and twists I did not see coming, although some I did. I do not imagine this is a novel I will soon forget.

Rating: * (Outstanding)

You can learn more about Sarah Waters and her books on the author's website

Source: I purchased both a trade paperback copy and e-copy of this book for my own reading pleasure.


 © 2014, Wendy Runyon of Musings of a Bookish Kitty. All Rights Reserved. If you're reading this on a site other than Musings of a Bookish Kitty or Wendy's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

24 comments:

  1. I don't think I've seen any negative reviews on this book so I know I'll love it, especially since so many of my blogger friends rave about it, including you, Wendy. :) This will be onto my to-read list next year.

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    1. Melody - I do hope you'll read it at some point, Melody, and that you'll enjoy it! I'm glad I finally gave Waters a try.

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  2. Wow, I've heard a lot about this book but never really knew what it was about. You've made it sound awfully appealing.

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    1. Kathy - I probably gave too much away, but, then again, hardly anything at all considering the scope of the book. I do hope you'll give it a try!

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  3. Lovely review, I read this one earlier this year (didn't review it though) and thought it was brilliant too. I have accumulated several more of her books on my to be read pile since.

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    1. Lindsay - I am glad you loved this one too! I have three of her other books waiting for me to read still and am looking forward to them. :-)

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  4. I've heard great things about Sarah Waters but the premise didn't grab me for this one. I'll definitely have to look for this one. I think I saw my library has this in audio. I'll have to get on the wait list!

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    1. Katherine - This book is a hard one to describe without giving too much away. There's so much to it. With the right narrator, I think this one one would make an interesting one to listen to.

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  5. I've long resisted this one despite all of the positive reviews. I liked The Little Stranger, but didn't love it, but thing I need to give Sarah Waters another try.

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    1. Jenclair - I haven't yet read The Little Stranger, but I do hope to at some point.

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  6. Yeah, it is pretty damn awesome. It could possibly go on my all time favorite list even.

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  7. I read this many years ago, but still remember how much I liked it.

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    1. Diane - I have a feeling this one will stay with me for a long time.

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  8. Okay, I just peeked at your thoughts on this one as I haven't finished reading it myself o.O I actually sent it back to the library unfinished but plan on going back to it soon. After I finish reading my current chunkster It. I'm glad to see that you enjoyed this one so much though! Makes me want to dive back into it :)

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    1. Samantha - You have to get it back!! I hope you do find time to get back to it. :-)

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  9. I just remember being absolutely shocked at the twist - one of the best I've ever read. Such a great book!

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    1. Elizabeth - I think the first words out of my mouth at that point was, "How delicious!" Haha

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  10. I have wanted to read Sarah Waters for a long time too but never quite get to it. Night Watch has been on my wishlist and like you, I feel that's the first book I will probably read by her. I need to bump up her book on my list or I may not get to it anytime soon. Glad that you loved this one. I'll be TBR-ing this one too.

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    1. Athira - I am hoping to read another of her books this coming year. Maybe Night Watch. :-)

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  11. Lovely review! It sounds like you liked this book as much as I did.

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  12. So glad you loved this one!! I was so impressed with her vision of Victorian era and the characters and the writing and the mood and atmosphere. Just such a gorgeous book! It's hard going into a book with such high expectations--so thrilled that yours were met. I've only read Affinity since this one and didn't love it quite as much. I think part of me is scared to read anything else for fear of being let down!

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    1. Trish - Yes! All of that. :-) This was such a beautiful book on many levels. I do want to read her other books, especially now.

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