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Sarah Waters – Fingersmith

July 21, 2010

80. Fingersmith by Sarah Waters (2002)

Read By: Juanita McMahon
Length: 23 h 39 min (582 pages)

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 16 June 2010
Finished: 11 July 2010

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? Nymeth’s fault.

Orphans, betrayals,
scams, lesbians, madhouses:
just another day.

Summary: Susan Trinder is an orphan in Victorian London, but she is an orphan raised in a house of thieves. When Richard Rivers, a down-on-his-luck son of a high-born family and an inveterate schemer, comes to Sue with a proposal that will make them both rich, she can’t help but listen. Sue is to become the maid of one Miss Maud Lilly, a young lady who has spent her life cloistered with an eccentric and hermetic uncle, a young lady with a fortune entailed upon her… but one that she will only receive once she marries. Sue is to help Richard to woo Maud, and then once she and Richard have eloped and been legally wed, they will leave her in the madhouse, and divide her fortune between them. Susan agrees, but as the days pass, she begins to have second thoughts: can she really betray someone that she’s grown to care about? Or will she change her mind before it’s too late… for all of them?

Review: Argh, this is one of those book reviews that I hate to write. And I hate to write it because this is one of those books that everyone absolutely loved. It’s won awards. It’s on people’s “best of the year” lists. People whose literary opinions I trust and value have strongly recommended it to me. It is, in short, a book that is beloved of everyone… except me.

So, where to start? We’ll start with the good points. And don’t get me wrong, this book has a lot of good points. It is a Victorian Gothic, which is a sub-genre I love, particularly when said Victoriana includes the poor, disenfranchised, and underworld-y side of London. Waters is undeniably skilled at evoking her setting and conveying a tone: I spent the entire book with not only a sense of suspense, but also with that horrible claustrophobia that comes from reading about people trapped in a situation from which they are powerless to escape. Her characterizations are well-done – both Susan and Maud felt real and layered, and their relationship was very subtly done and emotionally true without taking the “OMG, lesbians!” path it could have. Waters also handles her themes very well, particularly the powerlessness of women to affect their own fates during that time (which certainly added to the claustrophobia I mentioned above.) The plot was also insanely well-put-together, with twists that I never, ever saw coming, yet that interwove in such a way that everything came together in the end.

In short, this book had a lot of things going for it. So what was my problem? My problem was that I thought it dragged. Maybe it was the claustrophobia talking, but there were certain sections that just seemed to go on and on and on. I mean, why describe how stifling Maud’s uncle’s house was, when you can describe it three ways? Why give us one scene that shows that Sue’s having second thoughts when you can write four or five? Maybe it’s because I listened to the audio version (which was very well done, by the way) rather than reading it, and thus I had to hear each section without being able to skim when things got repetitive. I wanted to keep listening, because the twists and turns had hooked me in enough that I wanted to see how it all came out in the end, but I think this book could have been shortened by 30-40% without losing a single ounce of the things that made it good. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Although I didn’t love it as much as most people, it’s got more than enough redeeming qualities that if Victoriana and/or con-man stories are your thing, then I’d say it’s worth a read.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Books I Done Read, Farm Lane Books Blog, A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook, Jenny’s Books, My Fluttering Heart, Rhapsody in Books Weblog, S. Krishna’s Books, Shelf Love, Stuff as Dreams Are Made On, Things Mean a Lot, Valentina’s Room, Vulpes Libris, The Written World, The Zen Leaf
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder.

© 2010 Fyrefly’s Book Blog. All Rights Reserved. If you’re reading this on a site other than Fyrefly’s Book Blog, be aware that this post has been stolen and is being used without permission.

33 Comments leave one →
  1. July 21, 2010 5:05 am

    Sorry you didn’t enjoy it as much as everyone else. I have this book but I have yet to read it. I did read The Little Stranger just after Christmas and loved that. I must admit to owning it because of Nymeth too though.

    • July 23, 2010 9:29 am

      vivienne – I’ve heard good things about The Little Stranger, and would certainly be willing to read it if I came across a copy.

  2. July 21, 2010 7:30 am

    I think Nymeth might be single-handedly responsible for most people reading Fingersmith.

    My hold on this actually came in at the library yesterday, so I’m off to pick it this morning; hopefully, the print version will turn out better for me than the audio version did for you!

  3. July 21, 2010 8:36 am

    Hm, it sounds like it could use some paring down. I’m not sure it’s my kind of book.

    • July 23, 2010 9:33 am

      bermudaonion – Well, that’s just my opinion; there are plenty of people who didn’t notice the dragging.

  4. July 21, 2010 10:06 am

    I loved this novel but I wasn’t able to get into Affinity so I wonder if I would enjoy any of Waters’ other works. I think I might try one more…not sure though which one!

    • July 23, 2010 9:34 am

      Tricia – This was my first stab at Waters’s works, so I am no help for you there, sorry!

  5. July 21, 2010 10:43 am

    Even though Waters is so popular and even though I have a couple of her books on my shelf, I haven’t read anything by her. I’m a wee bit intimidated.

    • July 23, 2010 9:37 am

      christina – I bet these are chunksters in physical form… I can see how a few of them staring at you might be intimidating!

  6. July 21, 2010 11:54 am

    I loved the book but I did have the same response to the movie as you did to the book.

    • July 23, 2010 9:38 am

      rhapsody – That’s interesting; I just watched the movie this weekend and thought the pacing was much improved. Scenes that took (literally) two hours in the audiobook were wrapped up in five minutes in the movie.

  7. July 21, 2010 12:33 pm

    I’ve had this book on my shelf forever and a day, but haven’t yet read it (related to your Sunday Salon post, I suppose). It’s hard to read a ton of fabulous reviews about a book and then find yourself wondering what the fuss was about (I’m with you on that!). I’ll still give this a try….someday.

    • July 23, 2010 9:39 am

      Michele – I’m not sure that this was a case of over-high expectations, although I’ve certainly had that happen with other books. But normally, once I decide that I’d like to read a book, I stop reading reviews of it for exactly that reason.

  8. July 21, 2010 4:17 pm

    I’m curious about this book, but reading about those lengthy descriptions give me pause. After The Count of Monte Cristo and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’m longing for a book that is less than 500 pages. In fact, less than 200 pages would be great.

    • July 23, 2010 9:40 am

      charley – Yes, I’d say you’ve earned something short and a little brainless! This one will still be there when you’re back in the mood for another chunkster.

  9. July 21, 2010 5:28 pm

    Oh I hate it when that happens! At least you didn’t buy it lol. I really like the title though.

    • July 23, 2010 9:41 am

      Ladytink – I like the title too – it’s a clever play on words with some of the main themes of the book.

  10. July 21, 2010 5:57 pm

    I wouldn’t have read this on audio, because you’re right, there are sections that can go a bit long. Do you think you might try again someday with a physical book? I didn’t feel it dragged at all when I was reading it, although I did with Tipping the Velvet. (Yeah, don’t read that one on audio…)

    • July 23, 2010 9:42 am

      Jenny – I don’t know that I’d be clamoring to re-read this one any time soon, even in print, but I’m certainly not averse to reading some of Waters’s other books.

  11. July 21, 2010 6:55 pm

    I would hazard a guess that Fingersmith on audio may feel much more wordy than Fingersmith in print. Then again, I’m very not in to audiobooks so taht could just be my bias.

    • July 23, 2010 9:44 am

      Trisha – I’ve found that a lot of times, I actually enjoy audiobooks more than the actual books, because it does make me slow down and hear every word. This was just a rare case when skimming would have been preferable.

  12. July 23, 2010 7:35 am

    I didn’t love it as much as everyone else either and I also thought it dragged… I’ll be reading her other books though, I’m still intrigued by them!

  13. July 23, 2010 3:28 pm

    You’re actually the second blogger I’ve seen give a less than glowing review to The Fingersmith in a short while. I’m sorry to hear you were a bit disappointed, but it reassures me a little to read something else than hype about the book. This way I can read it with lower expectations!

    • August 3, 2010 9:14 am

      kay – I think that if you go into it with balanced expectations, you’ll probably like it… there’s a lot there that’s really good.

  14. July 27, 2010 9:44 pm

    That’s a good point about the audio production. I’ve just recently started listening to audiobooks as I walk around town, and I’ve noticed that certain parts of the books do seem to drag more than they would if I could read faster to get over them. It’s a little annoying.

    • August 3, 2010 9:15 am

      Memory – Most of the time I really appreciate that audiobooks make me slow down and actually *listen* to every word, but there are definitely some times that make me wish I could skim.

  15. August 10, 2010 7:24 am

    I can imagine that reading this book on audio might make some passages longer than they seem to be in print. Or maybe I just didn’t notice it as much as you did.

  16. permalink
    October 21, 2011 11:46 am

    I agree with the review. I feel like I’ve read this book five times just to get to the end of it. I listened to the audible version as well, but didn’t appreciate it the way the reviewer did because I felt the narrator had the same speaking style as the author’s writing style. Every sentence took FOREVER and I became more and more impatient. I’ve never responded online about a book before, but by the time this book was over I was basically furious at it. I’ve never been so relieved to be “over” a book.


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