Fingersmith isn't just a great novel for someone seeking a story exploring a lesbian relationship between two strong characters; it is a truly Great Novel -- a future classic -- worthy of study and consideration as an example of the best contemporary literature written in English. That is not to say it's for everyone -- I've scanned the existing reviews here. Some people do not enjoy this book one bit and feel it delivers less than it demands.
So I will try to articulate what I like about the book; maybe you'll see something that resonates with you as a reason you'd enjoy it -- or a signal that you might be more likely to find it a waste of time.
1) I really appreciate multi-dimensional, complex characters who are fleshed out with details of their thoughts and feeling so that they seem really human. If these elements of characterization often impact how much you enjoy a book, you would definitely find a lot to appreciate in Sarah Waters's work here.
1a) If you furthermore have an appreciation of psychological novels where you get a really deep and nuanced understanding of how an individual character thinks and feels, you will probably really like this book. One of the primary features of this novel is that you experience the story from the perspective of each of the two main characters. These characters are tremendously interesting and incredibly well-developed. Sarah Waters really shows mastery, I think, in fascinating the reader with her depiction of her characters' consciousness -- the complexity, relatability, and strangeness of both characters is spellbinding.
2) I agree with others who have said that if you really like Victorian novels, you're likely to enjoy this. If you never met a Victorian novel you liked and have sampled several from different authors, I'd say you are somewhat less likely to enjoy this novel.
2a) But it's no Victorian novel; I know people who read nothing but mass market fiction and are not "literary" types who LOVED this book and couldn't put it down.
3)I found the plot really, really delivered! There were many more unexpected twists and satisfyingly shocking, dramatic events in this book than in the lion's share of books I read. There will be moments that you won't want to put it down, I can pretty much guarantee. I didn't think it was ever slow moving in plot, but that's all relative. I don't know what feels too fast or slow for you. It's definitely a lot more action-packed and fast-moving than anything by Victorian novelists Eliot, Gaskell or Trollope, for example. Dickens is sometimes very fast moving with his plots so I can't really make the same comparison.
In sum, I'd say this book:
--has a fascinating and original plot and narrative technique (the perspective switching, for example);
--does an outstanding job of depicting textured, complex and palpably human characters and relationships;
--is written as intricately and rigorously and beautifully to merit multiple close readings (if you're into that sort of thing ;).
I hope this is helpful for at least some of you -- happy reading!
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jai41004, August 4, 2012 (view all comments by jai41004)
This book starts off a little bit slowly. She discribes things in such a way that you really feel like you know the people and places. She has such a way of transporting her reader. Every character is complex and real. There are huge twists throughout the book, I actually gasped once or twice. Through out the book you end up loving, hating, routing for, and shaking your head at each of the main characters. I really could hardly put it down. This one is more that worth a read.
Holly B, July 26, 2011 (view all comments by Holly B)
This book starts out rather slowly as a character study. I was interested but not enthralled. And then, WHAM, Sarah Waters throws a left hook that I did not see coming and sucked me deeply into the book. I was on a vacation, and when I got to that part, I was almost annoyed that I was on my trip, since all I wanted to do was read! The author continues to change perspectives, which keeps things interesting. She continues to throw twists in, which are then somewhat more expected, but no less interesting. This book is well worth the read. I hated finishing it--I just wanted it to keep going.
Jessica Byers, June 20, 2011 (view all comments by Jessica Byers)
Historical fiction at it's best and most enjoyable. I have not lost so much sleep for a book in a very long time. Thought it took me a little while to get into at at first, once I did, I was totally hooked. Incredibly suspenseful and fascinating the particular way that she somewhat unexpectedly tells the story from both protagonists' point of view. This was one that stayed with me for quite a while after I finished it; I'd wake up wondering what became of the characters, Sue and Maud. I was sorry it was over, but glad I still have a few more of Sarah Waters' books to read.
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Tara McDaniel, January 3, 2010 (view all comments by Tara McDaniel)
The best book I've read in a decade? Nay. The best book I've read in my life! Water's writing is lush, moody and provocative, and the plot has one twist after another, leading you to the perfectly surprising ending. I lost sleep for days reading this book. I haven't found another to surpass it--yet.
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by Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review),
"[A] richly woven tale of duplicity, passion, and lots of other good stuff....Nobody writing today surpasses the precocious Waters's virtuosic handling of narrative complexity and thickly textured period detail. This is a marvelous novel."
by USA Today,
"Superb storytelling. Fingersmith is gripping; so suspenseful and twisting is the plot that for the last 250 pages, I read at breakneck speed."
by The Washington Post Book World,
"A marvelous pleasure....Waters's noted attention to historical detail and her beautifully sensitive dialogue help to anchor the force-five plot twisters."
by Entertainment Weekly,
"A deftly plotted thriller....An absorbing and elegant story that's old-fashioned in the best way."
by The New York Times Book Review,
"Oliver Twist with a twist: female and sexually aware....Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses....She writes great Gothic, her descriptive skill augmented by an acute ear for dialogue."
by Los Angeles Times,
"What a deliciously brazen stunt Sarah Waters pulls off....[A] first-rate pastiche of betrayed maidens and dastardly smiling villains....The erotic charge between Maud and Sue and the psychological games they play make Fingersmith a sophisticated treat."
by The Boston Globe,
"A sweeping read."
by The Seattle Times,
"[The] energetic plot bristles with scheming villains and lurid details....Calls to mind the feverishly gloomy haunts of Charlotte and Emily Bronte....Elaborate and satisfying."
by Vancouver Sun,
"A doorstopper of a book that manages to be both Victorian and modern all at once....Full of enough sinewy twists and turns to make Wilkie Collins — the Charles Dickens contemporary — put down his quill in awe."
by Rocky Mountain News,
"An intriguing and entertaining read full of twists and turns, reversals and revelations....A haunting, disturbing and lovely ode to the universal frailties of the human condition."
Oliver Twist with a twist Waters spins an absorbing tale that withholds as much as it discloses. A pulsating story.”—The New York Times Book Review
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksbys household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrives—Gentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Mauds vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed of—passed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.
With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals
Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thievesfingersmithsfor whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.
One day, the most beloved thief of all arrivesGentleman, an elegant con man, who carries with him an enticing proposition for Sue: If she wins a position as the maid to Maud Lilly, a naïve gentlewoman, and aids Gentleman in her seduction, then they will all share in Maud’s vast inheritance. Once the inheritance is secured, Maud will be disposed ofpassed off as mad, and made to live out the rest of her days in a lunatic asylum.
With dreams of paying back the kindness of her adopted family, Sue agrees to the plan. Once in, however, Sue begins to pity her helpless mark and care for Maud Lilly in unexpected ways...But no one and nothing is as it seems in this Dickensian novel of thrills and reversals.
The New York Times Book Review has called Sarah Waters a writer of "startling power" and The Seattle Times has praised her work as "gripping, astute fiction that feeds the mind and the senses." Fingersmith marks a major leap forward in this young and brilliant career.
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