When I first expressed interest in reading Sarah Waters, a lot of bloggers recommended that I start with Fingersmith. I however ended up picking up and dropping it multiple times before actually getting into the book – so much so that even though I started this book first, I ended up dropping it and reading The Little Stranger and The Night Watch before trying this book again.
There were some reasons why this book was a bit hard for me to get into, but once I got over a certain hump in the story, the book was really enjoyable, and I raced through it.
About the Book
Susan “Sue” Trinder is a fingersmith (British slang for thief) who lives in the slums of London with a baby farmer (person who looks after unwanted babies) Mrs.Sucksby.
When a conman presents them with a scam that has a payout of 40,000 pounds, Sue signs on to swindle rich Maud Lilly.
Maud is an orphan who lives with her uncle, but what exactly is going on in the Lilly house?
Sue plans to pose as Maud’s maid so that Mr. Rivers (the gentleman) can get close to and eventually marry her.
Their plan is to put Maud in the madhouse and take the money for themselves.
All goes astray though when Sue falls in love with Maud.
Fingersmith was short-listed for the Orange Prize and the Booker Prize, and has been widely acclaimed, and all for very good reason.
However, I initially found it a bit hard to get into this book. The book starts with Sue plotting with a crook (ironically named Gentleman) about swindling a rich lady Maud into marriage. The plan is for Sue to work as her lady’s maid, get her trust, and help Gentleman in his courting of Maud.
Of course, things go wrong. Sue develops a conscience, and even more alarming, she develops feelings for Maud. None of this is a big surprise as we know by now that Waters writes mostly lesbian characters.
The entire first part of the book is the setting up of the story. We see Sue’s life in Victorian London, and then we are transported to a remote country house where Maud lives a very stifling life, working as an unpaid secretary to her uncle.
This is the part of the story that started to become a little dull. Sue’s not the brightest bulb in the book, Maud is a really odd duck. All they seem to do is go for walks around the house, and do some sewing. Jeez, women had such an exciting time in Victorian England, right? Not!
Then the first part comes to its conclusion and with it, we see the first of many plot twists. The second part starts, and it’s now Maud who narrates. Maud, who might not be as good-hearted and naïve as Sue thinks her to be.
A lot of Part 2 deals with Maud looking back at her interactions with Sue (essentially a repetition of Part 1, but from Maud’s eyes). This repetition jarred on me a bit, and seemed clumsy. But once that was got out of the way, the book really takes steam.
I zoomed through the rest of the book one windy, rainy day, and thoroughly enjoyed every bit of the rest of the book.
Book reviews have called this book Gothic, Dickensian, and so on, and they are right. The characters and the outrageous plotting are very Dickensian in style. There are some scenes in a mental asylum that reminded me strongly of Wilkie Collins‘ use of asylums in The Woman in White. If you are a fan of the Gothic, you will love this book as I did. Just have a little patience with the weaker beginning.
Overall this book will go on the list of one of the best books I read this year.
Btw, I heard there is a BBC TV adaptation that’s pretty good, and a Korean movie (The Handmaiden). Both have excellent reviews, and I hope to catch at least one of them if available on Netflix.
So, now my third Sarah Waters is done. Which book of hers should I pick up next?
You can also buy a copy of this book from Amazon.