If you haven’t yet read Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith then you need to get your hands on a copy immediately. Go to your local library. Find a bookshop. Borrow it from your best friend/ex/wife/"roommate".
I love Fingersmith. I think it’s Sarah Waters’ best novel yet, and boy, does she have some good ones. Waters’ use of language is enthralling, and she’s not one for tiptoeing around vulgarities. The characters are so filled out and real, you might as well be sitting in your living room having a coffee and a chat with them. A romance come crime novel, Fingersmith will capture your interest for days after you’ve finished reading.
Fingersmith is set in Victorian London, 1862. The protagonist, Sue Trinder, is an orphan whose mother was hanged for murder. Taken in and raised lovingly by baby-farmer Mrs Sucksby and fencer Mr Ibbs, Sue undertakes a journey into the country, to act as a young heiress’ Lady’s Maid. The Heiress in question is Miss Maud Lilly, who works for her uncle- a man hell-bent on creating a perverse kind of encyclopaedia.
In reality, it is an act; Sue is working for an interesting character known as Gentleman. Gentleman wishes to marry Maud Lilly and have her committed, stealing her fortune. Gentleman is acting as Maud’s Drawing Master- as well as working for her uncle, and he needs a somewhat laissez-faire chaperone for their lessons, as her uncle would never allow Maud to be alone with a young man.
However, all is not as it seems, and in one of the best written lesbian sex scenes to grace the page (I’m not kidding, reading it I felt off-kilter, as if I was personally intruding on a private moment), Sue helps Maud to understand what will happen on her wedding night. And suddenly, Sue isn’t sure if she’s doing the right thing. She goes ahead anyway, but feels awful about it.
In a twist that will shock you to your core, the plan changes, and Sue must use all her experiences growing up around pickpockets and thieves to get back to Miss Maud Lilly.
All in all, Fingersmith should be on the bookshelf of every lesbian household. It is written for gay women, not about them; which I think is a distinction important to all of us. A dark, deeply disturbing novel, with delightfully romantic undertones, it is a book like no other. If I had to criticise one thing, it would be that Waters’ uses a heavy amount of descriptive writing. At times it feels like the book is not progressing because of the vast amount of descriptive language- but the payoff is feeling enveloped by the settings, and I would argue that it’s well worth it.
(Cover image from BBC)
If you want to see your favourite book reviewed here, comment below and we'll do our best!