Fingersmith – the book that the bookgroup liked!

When I first heard about the idea of World Book Night and being able to give away nearly fifty books, I was very chuffed. Even more so when I heard that the choices included Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith. It is not the most obvious choice to make, but it was a book that I read years ago and remembered really well, for once not just because I had watched it on tv…

For those who have not read it, you have missed a treat. It opens with a Dickensian view of a thieves’ kitchen in London, describes a baby farmer by the name of Mrs Sucksby, and the reality of a public hanging, through the memory of Sue. Sue tells the story of her mother’s death as a criminal, the surprisingly warm and cosy life of thieves and forgers, and the arrival of Gentleman, who proves to be intent on working a con of life changing importance. It involves her becoming maid to the isolated and timid Maud, shut away with a fanatical uncle in a dark house in the country. Despite her initial fears, Sue grows to like and love Maud, almost reluctant to carry through the complex plan that will apparently see her becoming rich.

And there the plot description must end, because to reveal any more would spoil the tremendous twists and turns that this novel takes. Everyone is genuinely surprised by the developments in this book. Waters shows her talents as a plotter of stories so well here. She apparently intended to write a Victorian sensation novel from a modern perspective, which avoids pages of description (no Dickensian fog here), does allow certain coincidences, and includes strong characterisations. One review I read said that she does not miss a single telling detail, and this is a big book, but everything is to the point, without pages of descriptions which fill the pages if not the imagination. She will highlight a particular  behaviour, such as shining up jewels before fleeing the house, giving an image of the experience fence of stolen goods and the complete removal of all Maud’s possessions. The women are strong characters, damaged yet full of determination to survive. This book says much about the nature of womens’ lives and choices in the Victorian era, but not in a strident way, but a way that affects the reader, male or female.

I fairly flooded the village /town with copies of this book, and it would seem that on the whole people have enjoyed it. I must admit to being a little nervous how a book seen as challenging expectations would go down in a fairly conservative area, but the anecdotal evidence suggest that it has been an absorbing read for many people. I think that there is an unofficial competition to see how far a copy can go. So far I haven’t had to rehome any books; I hope that they won’t all turn up at the next charity bookstall.

The book group that discussed this book last week really appreciated this novel. I’m not sure what they were expecting, and they found it a big book to read, but they really enjoyed the plot, the characters and the story. They found the surprising twists very satisfying, and were intrigued by the characters, especially Sue and Maud. One lady pointed out that she knew something was going to go unexpectedly, as there was so much book left to read at a certain point. Some of the group had got hold of the dvd of the BBC version, which is true to the book as well as softly filmed. There was an emphasis on one or two elements which may have ensured viewers, and it is not fast moving drama, but I think beautifully acted. Well worth seeing, but read the book first or it really will spoil the surprise!

A bit of a gap between posts really, as I have been a little busy, but watch this space for some easy read series (which really will stretch your credibility, or mine) which I have been crashing through, as well as the brilliant (and readable) The Last Dance by Denys Blakeway – 1936, The Year Our Lives Changed. This is such a good book…

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