Fingersmith – Sarah Waters

Posted 22 October, 2009 by Trish in Reading Nook, Review / 28 Comments

Tags: ,

Title: Fingersmith
Author: Sarah Waters
Published: 2002 Pages: 582
Genre: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.25/5

Fingersmith begins with a poor orphan, Susan Trinder, who has been taken under the wing of a band of thieves after her mother was hung for murder when she was an infant. When Susan is around seventeen years of age, her adoptive mother Mrs. Sucksby agrees to let her partake in plot to deceive an unsuspecting and rather innocent woman out of her inheritance. Gentleman, the head of the plot will woo and marry Maud Lilly, who is also orphaned and lives a sheltered life with her uncle, and then commit her into an asylum while Susan and Gentleman make off with a small fortune.

I finished this book over a week ago and have since been trying to formulate my thoughts in a coherent fashion. While I really liked this book a lot I keep wanting to focus on some of my more negative feelings. I think those feelings come, though, from knowing too much about the book before going into it. Everyone has raved about this book–calling it the best plot ever devised and twists and turns that will cause your head to spin. Yes, both of those things carry weight, but knowing that going into the book caused me to anticipate too much and so for the final third of the book I felt a little let down. This is why I don’t read plot summaries–the less I know about a book going into my reading, the better the outcome for me.

All that said, let’s get on to the good bits. I loved the atmosphere Waters created in this book. It is foggy and gritty and seedy and every bit the Victorian London Dickens would have written. There are pickpockets and colorful characters. Mrs. Sucksby is quite the lady (rolls eyes) and Gentleman–well, don’t let the name fool you. My favorite characters, though, are Susan and Maud. In many ways the two are perfect companion characters, each highlighting the characteristics of the other in their many differences. The book switches between the two girls’ perspectives and so the reader gets a clear look into the motives and emotions of each. I love perspective and point of view and Waters did an amazing job creating a distinct voice for Susan and Maud.

And then there is the writing. For me Waters’ writing snuck up on me–in many ways it is simple and nothing to shout about, but the way that she turns a phrase is quite beautiful. She writes with passion and breathes life into her characters. I don’t need a lot of dialogue in the books that I read, mostly because I feel like dialogue is often forced, but Waters hits the language of the characters dead on. Their conversations are realistic and she uses this as well as the characters’ inner thoughts to show what is going on–she lets her characters develop the book rather than laying it all out by herself. Does this make sense? Some authors just tell you, but Waters shows. It makes sense to me. :P

But an example–taken from the second half of the book narrated by Maud:

“I think she must see it [desire]. Now he has named it, I think it must colour me–I think it must mark me crimson, like paint marks the hot red points, the lips and gashes and bare whipped limbs, of my uncle’s portraits. I am afraid, that night, to undress before her. I am afraid to lie at her side. I am afraid to sleep. I am afraid I will dream of her. I am afraid that in dreaming, I will turn and touch her…” (293).

I love the parallelisms in her writing, but more than that the passion. And let me tell you this book is passionate! Nymeth gave this book the Most Beautiful Sex Scene Award and I’m going to have to agree with her completely. Oh my goodness. Prudes don’t fear–there is nothing terribly graphic about this book nor the sex scenes. There is a bit of language, but it’s sparse and not overly offensive. And more than anything, this book is the epitome of a page turner. Even at 582 pages long this book is a fairly quick read and a rollercoaster of a ride.

One more bit that made me chuckle then be grateful of times changed:

Fancies, Mrs. Rivers. If you might only hear yourself! Terrible plots? Laughing villains? Stolen fortunes and girls made out to be mad? The stuff of lurid fiction! We have a name for your disease. We call it a hyper-aesthetic one. You have been encouraged to over-indulge yourself in literature; and have inflamed your organs of fancy.” “Inflamed?” [Maud] said. “Over-indulge? Literature?” “You have read too many books” (447).

Ok, I guess that ended up much better than I thought it would. I do really recommend this book. Besides–everyone else is reading it, why shouldn’t you? Even a week and a half after finishing I’m still mulling over the events and characters of this book!

28 Responses to “Fingersmith – Sarah Waters”

  1. I LOVED this and Tipping the Velvet. I still have to read some more by this talented author. Glad u enjoyed it true Trish

  2. I’m so, so glad I didn’t know anything about the plot before I read this one; it remains my favorite of Waters’s books, though I’ve not yet read The Little Stranger. Have you read others of hers, Trish? Your description of her writing is spot on; I can’t get enough of it.

    Amanda, do you have a link for the LGBT challenge??? I’d love to participate!

  3. I have seen so many great reviews of this but the length puts me off. Also, I’m not a huge fan of deception in a book so I tend to avoid them. Plots to deceive, that is. Secret identities, that stuff. BUT everyone says the same thing about it being passionate and you KNOW I love that! Any type of falling in love will get me.

  4. verbatim

    I’ve been checking every day for your review since seeing you were reading Fingersmith, one of my favorite books this year. I loved the writing, too, and agree that that’s the best love scene I’ve read in a long time (maybe since the library scene in Atonement, but in a different way). Loved the writing, loved the plot, loved the characters (always saw Al Swearingen from Deadwood as Gentleman in my mind’s eye), but I also think the book had a lot to say about the virtual powerlessness of women in Victorian Europe. We’re reading this for my book club in January and I can’t wait.

  5. I feel so guilty :( You’re not the first to say that hearing so much about it made the twist easier to guess. I’d heard about it too from Nick Hornby, but the thing is, I’m notoriously dim at guessing twists :P But I’m really sorry all the talk made it less of a surprise :( Something I asked someone else recently, though – do you think having read The Woman in White first helped too? Because to me, it was the other way around. Reading this first made it less surprising.

    Anyway, I’m really glad you still enjoyed it! She really does passionate better than anyone else I can think of!

  6. You know what I really WANT the book to be about when I see the cover & hear the title? I want it to be a James Bond farce set in the victorian era. Sort of James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes meets Austen Powers.

    That’s really all I have to say.

    In fact, I think someone should go write that book.

  7. Excellent review, Trish! I enjoyed reading your opinions on this book. I’ve read a lot of glowing reviews on this book and now I think it’s time for me to move this book up my TBR pile (provided if I could find the book!) :P

  8. I didn’t know anything about the plot going into it, but I was a bit underwhelmed by the twits and tuns too. Although I still loved the book. Have you read The Night Watch? It’s very atmospheric, too…Waters is so good at mood.

  9. I need to read her very soon. That’s a great review! I am still regretting the fact that I didn’t buy NIGHT WATCH when I was in Singapore. There was a book fair. :(

  10. Amy

    Yeah, I haven’t been able to read this yet because I’m trying to forget there’s a twist. :) I only, in fact, skimmed your review, please forgive!!

  11. I know exactly what you mean about expectations affecting a reading; I never really had that problem before – being a solitary reader – but now that I’m blogging, it’s become a strange conundrum. I hear about these great books I normally would never come across, but when I read them, I know more going in than I’d like. It’s a new way of reading.

  12. I couldn’t finish this one. I was really sick when I picked it up and somehow I’ve associated the nausea of the first 12 weeks of pregnancy with this book. I’ll have to try another one of hers once I’ve had this baby and no longer feel constant nausea!

  13. I really identify with the part about knowing too much about a book before reading it. Have tainted a lot of books that way! I like reviews like yours, that give you a good idea of the book without giving too much away.

  14. With such a glowing review I must pick this up. At first glance, I was thinking of the title Instance At The Fingerpost, by Ian Pears. I’m glad this one is different because while good? That book was LONG, with no good sex parts to speak of. ;)

  15. *Kirsten – I haven’t read anything else by Waters but I will be now!

    *Diane – I haven’t heard much about Tipping Velvet–mostly this one and Night Watch. Will look it up!

    *Bermuda – Everyone loves this book so much that it was hard to live up, but it was still really good.

    *Lisa – Yes, very deceptive book but it all ends up good, you know. I haven’t read many gay love stories before, but this one was really well done.

    *Verbatim – LOL–sorry for the wait, I’ve been awfully behind lately. ;) I think I picture Daniel Day Lewis as Gentleman. Have you read any of her other books?

    *Christina – Well, until a week ago I would have disagreed with you being the last person to read Waters. There’s always someone else. :P

    *Nymeth – Actually I didn’t think of WiW at all while reading this one. I think I’m a fairly dense reader. :) But yes, I did really enjoy it–and it wasn’t the twist that let me down, it was the rather drawn out denoument, I think.

    *Belle – I hope you can get to Fingersmith soon!

    *JT – LOL–definitely not Austin Powers or James Bond. More of a Dickens/Collins type of book. Still good, though.

    *Melody – Yes, you should definitely try to get to this one! It’s so craftily written!

  16. *Softdrink – I liked the twists and turns but it seemed they came too early in the book and didn’t leave much in the ending. I hope to read Night Watch next (um, not next next…you know).

    *Alice – Oh no! Never pass up a good book at a book fair! :) Hope you can read Waters soon.

    *Kailana – LOL! I have a whole shelf full of books that I’ve owned forever and haven’t read. :) Hope you can read it soon!

    *Lisa – Yes, it was definitely worth the read! Have you read anything by Waters?

    *Amy – Forgiven, of course, for skimming. I didn’t give any spoilers, but like you I like to know as little as possible. :)

    *Joanna – Yes, it’s a really great book! I hope you like it.

    *Trisha – Blogging has definitely enhanced and hindered my expectations with books. I get all of my book recs from bloggers now and it’s great but there can be too much hype.

    *Lahni – Oh no!! I’m sorry that this one didn’t work at the time but hopefully one day you cann enjoy it.

    *Andrew – I try not to give spoilers in my reviews but sometimes it’s tough knowing just what to say. :) Thanks for coming by!

    *Bellezza – At the Fingerpost sounds dreadful! :) This was a really interesting book and reminded me a lot of Victorian lit. Enjoy!

  17. verbatim

    Daniel Day-Lewis hadn’t occurred to me but he’s a good choice. I have Night Watch waiting for me on the TBR pile.

  18. I haven’t read any books by Waters yet, but hope to someday. The length is a little daunting, but I’ve done it before. Maybe a listen will work out better for me, though. However, Night Watch is on my TBR Shelf.

  19. After reading your review it looks like I need to read some more Sarah Waters! Reading “Little Stranger” was a joy for me. I like her writing style. I’ve got “Tipping the Velvet” sitting in my stack of TBRs and hope to get to it soon.

  20. I saw the BBC adaptation this year and it was fantastic, I was on the edge of my seat. I really want to read the book now — I’ll have to move it up on my TBR pile.

  21. *Verbatim – I’ve been hearing good things about Night Watch so I hope you enjoy it, too!

    *Joy – The book is long but it didn’t feel painfully long! I think this one would be a great choice for listening.

    *Terri – She has really become a popular choice on the blogosphere, huh? I hope you enjoy this one!

    *Karenlibrarian – I wonder how this book would be after seeing the movie–might make it a little less suspenseful, but Waters’ writing is really great! Enjoy.

  22. I did love this book. I’m glad you did too. I lent my copy to one of my doctors and never got it back. I guess he liked it too. LOL
    I have The Little Stranger and plan on reading it in the next month. Her writing is superb in my opinion.