After I read Tipping the Velvet, the debut novel by Sarah Waters, I was hooked on her writing. She published Fingersmith in 2002 and it was shortlisted for the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize. It won the CWA Ellis Peters Dagger award for Historical Crime Fiction.
The descriptions in Tipping the Velvet wowed me. What dazzled me in Fingersmith was her ability to keep me guessing. At times I started to get angry. Every time I thought I had it figured it out I realized I was completely wrong. I started to feel stupid. This sounds like a complaint, but it isn’t.
The novel chronicles Sue Trinder’s life. Sue is an orphan under the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a “baby farmer” living in Victorian England. Mrs. Sucksby raises Sue as if she were her own. The house is always full of babies doused with gin to keep them quiet. Also, they share a home in the slums with fingersmiths, petty thieves.
Sue’s life changes drastically when Gentleman, a con man, enlists her help to swindle a rich heiress, Maud Lilly. Maud will inherit a large sum of money when she marries. The plan involves placing Sue into Maud’s home as the heiress’s maid and Gentleman will seduce Maud and marry her. Once the money is safe and sound, they’ll ditch Maud in a lunatic asylum. What could go wrong with this plan? Trust me, you have to read it to believe it. Each twist caused me to gasp. This novel kept me on the edge of my seat and I stayed up past my bedtime several nights in a row.
Not only did the reversals shock the heck out of me, but the subject matter in this novel angered me. The treatment of women in the lunatic asylum hopefully will make you shudder. My friend who recommended this novel calls Waters a social historian. I readily agree. Not only does she know how to spin a fantastic yarn, but I learn so much from her stories.