Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith

Sue Trinder is an orphan, left as an infant in the care of Mrs. Sucksby, a "baby farmer," who raised her with unusual tenderness, as if Sue were her own. Mrs. Sucksby’s household, with its fussy babies calmed with doses of gin, also hosts a transient family of petty thieves—fingersmiths—for whom this house in the heart of a mean London slum is home.One day, the most belove...

Title:Fingersmith
Author:
Rating:
ISBN:1101057025
Edition Language:English
Format Type:ebook
Number of Pages:592 pages

Fingersmith Reviews

  • Paul Bryant
    Sep 28, 2007

    This totally wonderful novel does exactly what the title says, it fingers your myth, it steals up on your soul and breathes down its neck and a shudder of pleasure is felt to the ends of all your extremities, your brain will wobble, your hair will vibrate strongly, and your eyebrows will be thrust up and down like energetic trampolining children as the intricate-clockmaker plot fastens your eyes ravenously to every page - draw the curtains, do not charge the mobile phone, tell your friends you h

    This totally wonderful novel does exactly what the title says, it fingers your myth, it steals up on your soul and breathes down its neck and a shudder of pleasure is felt to the ends of all your extremities, your brain will wobble, your hair will vibrate strongly, and your eyebrows will be thrust up and down like energetic trampolining children as the intricate-clockmaker plot fastens your eyes ravenously to every page - draw the curtains, do not charge the mobile phone, tell your friends you have gone to Tibet for three weeks, or Saskatchewan if that's less likely to make them worry. If there's an earthquake or a revolution you won't notice. In that way this book is close kin to The Quincunx and The Crimson Petal and the White. I want to be buried with all these three novels. So, you may know it's a Modern Victorian novel, which is a mini-genre I love & want more of, and you may also have heard that in this particular Modern Victorian

    are somehow involved. It is true, but what is more to the point is that a completely enthralling love story is portrayed, which happens to be between two women.

    Five stars each the size of Sirius.

  • karen
    Jun 09, 2010

    now that i have your attention... dana has been bugging me to write a review of this for the longest time, and now that she is on vacation and out of my path for ten minutes (seriously - the girl moved to my town just so she could stand under my window all night calling "hey!! heyyy!! write a review for

    ! come on, you know you want to!!")

    every night.

    so, now that i have a little breathing room, i will do my best.

    it's true, i want her to read this. i want everyone to re

    now that i have your attention... dana has been bugging me to write a review of this for the longest time, and now that she is on vacation and out of my path for ten minutes (seriously - the girl moved to my town just so she could stand under my window all night calling "hey!! heyyy!! write a review for

    ! come on, you know you want to!!")

    every night.

    so, now that i have a little breathing room, i will do my best.

    it's true, i want her to read this. i want everyone to read this. sarah waters has some amazing strengths - she creates well-developed, complicated characters, she is a master at pacing, she can construct very tight, multi-layered narratives where the next move is always surprising, and she recreates the victorian setting better than anyone else that i have read. there is also a kickass "mystery" plot in here. not a detective-y whodunnit mystery, but more traditionally dickens/collins family mystery with elements of mamet's

    . it is almost 600 pages of puppy-shuddering bliss. but be honest, i had you at lesbian dickens.

    sarah waters is an author i always break my "save one book" vow with - her last two books, i had to buy the very day they came in, i slapped a "do not disturb" sign on my head and i just plowed through them in a matter of hours. and then i felt that gutsick christmas midafternoon void where you look around and whimper hopefully - "more??". she is

    good. and this is her at her very best.

    for me, the best aspect of the victorian is the marginalized, the liminal members of society and what they do to get by. in this case, there is a young woman raised by a band of thieves (a

    of

    !!!) who gets roped into perpetrating a pretty long con only to find herself in a love triangle and perhaps being conned herself.

    but i have said too much!

    seriously - this book is a genuine crowd pleaser, even though the obnoxious lady from last week dismissed it ... "i don't want to sound

    , but i suppose i shall say it anyway.... this looks so....

    ..." (david, i am using your voice here to recreate, i hope you don't mind)

    not that there's anything wrong with "middlebrow", especially coming from a lady like this who proved that she had no idea what a 17-year-old reluctant reader would be pleased to get as a gift and instead was imposing her own values on this poor girl.(shame, shame) hey, kid - hope you enjoy the journals of john evelyn!! a real page-turner!

    poor thing...

    all i know is this is a truly enjoyable and memorable book,and my brows suit me perfectly. hhmph.

    it's also like this:

  • Limonessa
    Oct 04, 2011

    I have to admit that throughout

    all of

    the main random thoughts sweeping across the desolate land of my mind were along the lines of: WTF? WHAT? WHAT DID JUST HAPPEN?

    This is an intricate, ambitious, original, jaw-dropping, gut-punching, heart-wrenching plot for which I will NOT give you a synopsis. First, because I wouldn't know where to start from and second because it's better for you if you know NOTHING about it. Then you'll have my same random thoughts, as stated above.

    I'

    I have to admit that throughout

    all of

    the main random thoughts sweeping across the desolate land of my mind were along the lines of: WTF? WHAT? WHAT DID JUST HAPPEN?

    This is an intricate, ambitious, original, jaw-dropping, gut-punching, heart-wrenching plot for which I will NOT give you a synopsis. First, because I wouldn't know where to start from and second because it's better for you if you know NOTHING about it. Then you'll have my same random thoughts, as stated above.

    I'll just give you a few fundamental points: you need to know it's set in Victorian England, it's about thieves, an elaborate scam and it is not for people who don't tolerate gratuitous cruelty, mind games and deceptions in their books.

    Actually, I'd say its main theme is just that: DECEPTION.

    This is not what I would usually pick up: books that keep continuously on edge, anxious, oppressed, frustrated, puzzled, even nauseated at times are so not my cup of tea. So while on the one hand I gave it 4 stars because I did like it, on the other hand I cringe when I look at it, even now, a few days later. But I guess it's just what I am meant to feel, for such a book. So yes, a success in its genre.

    My main complaint is its length. Its change of pace unsettled me, starting off as dull, then giving you a big punch in the face around one third in, then lulling again for quite a long chunk to finish off with a great epilogue. So while some parts where breath-taking and put me in a frenzy (I swear I was tachycardic), some other parts kind of put me in a stupor (while monsoons where still blowing my mind and I was trying to figure out what could possibly happen next.)

    All in all a great read but not for the faint of heart. I'm pretty sure I want to read something else by this author, once I get over the persecutory delusions I developed with

    .

  • Cecily
    Aug 14, 2012

    A tricky book to review, partly because it didn't live up to my (possibly unfairly high) hopes and partly because I'm trying to write shorter, punchier reviews, but this was almost 600 pages long. I have failed...

    Waters is an award-winning historical novelist, who specialises in the Victorian period (and lesbian protagonists). This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and her PhD thesis even covers a key subject of this book.

    I was expecting something l

    A tricky book to review, partly because it didn't live up to my (possibly unfairly high) hopes and partly because I'm trying to write shorter, punchier reviews, but this was almost 600 pages long. I have failed...

    Waters is an award-winning historical novelist, who specialises in the Victorian period (and lesbian protagonists). This book was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Prize and her PhD thesis even covers a key subject of this book.

    I was expecting something like the wondrous sensuality of Michel Faber’s

    , in terms of atmosphere, writing and to some extent, content: another “dirty Dickens”. Unfortunately, it fell short. It’s not a bad book, but nowhere near as rich or enjoyable as I'd hoped.

    I noticed quite a few echoes of classics, and I liked all but one of these little homages. That one though, is the main reason I gave this book only 3*.

    A fingersmith is a pickpocket, and Oliver Twist is explicitly mentioned on the first page (and a couple of times thereafter). Unsurprising but harmless.

    There are indirect allusions to

    , when it's suggested that too much "literature" might trigger madness, and a librarian is “a curator of poisons”.

    is a clear inspiration, with a Mrs Rivers (not that there was, quite, one in JE), a magical-realist thread tugging, almost literally, at the heart of a separated lover, and a willful child who is treated rather as Aunt Reed treated Jane.

    Aspects of the life of one character have eerie echoes of one in

    (

    ). Noticing this wasn’t really a spoiler, but it added to the feeling of familiarity, rather than originality.

    There are quite a few ghost-story tropes, but only in a couple of chapters: fog, a mysterious candlelit figure at a window, clocks striking in a dilapidated house, nightmares… etc.

    The fundamental problem for me was the numerous parallels to another classic, meaning that the plot of this held few surprises:

    Plenty of authors have successfully based their work on a well-loved tale, so I’m not sure why I had such a problem with this one. I think it’s that I didn’t enjoy it enough in general, coupled with the fact this could be classed as a mystery, so knowing the plot rather killed the mystery.

    The book is split into thirds. Part one (3*) is narrated by Susan, a girl of about fifteen, who has lived all her life with fingersmiths, in a household that is a slightly more benevolent version of Bill Sykes and Nancy’s establishment. Her storytelling style is necessarily rather plain. She overuses “pretty” as a modifier (“pretty precious”, “pretty good”) and sprinkles the odd bit of thieves’ slang, yet it didn’t conjure the right tone for me.

    Part two (4*) is narrated by Maude, who is the same age, but living in a country house with her reclusive uncle. I really enjoyed this section, partly because her more descriptive and thoughtful voice was more engaging, but mainly because of the way this section repeatedly refuted so many of my assumptions and quibbles in part one, and raised questions about most of the others. Almost nothing is as it seemed. “Why should my uncle lie?”… “Why should he tell the truth?”

    Part three (2*) was back to Susan. That in itself was predictable, and most of the plot was too.

    Anyone struggling with part one who is tempted to skim it to get to part two really shouldn’t, otherwise the contrasts and contradictions will be lost on them.

    Several reviews mention the frequent and surprising plot twists. I didn’t really notice any until the end of part one, and once I realised the book whose plot it follows, most weren’t really surprises, though they certainly count as twists: so many lies and so much double-crossing and confusion. I can see why it can be exciting: love, betrayal, mistaken identity, wealth, madness, revenge, escape, transformation, murder… yet excitement eluded me.

    Waters is well known as a lesbian writer who often includes lesbian themes. That crops up here, but is not extensive enough to sway readers one way or the other when deciding whether to read it.

    Fingers feature prominently though, mainly in part two. Maude always wears spotless gloves and her uncle has a big brass plaque on the library floor beyond which servants must not cross, lest their eyes damage the books. He

    it’s in the shape of a pointing finger.

    This book is neither, but it indirectly raises question about the distinction. “The flesh made word” was a neat (and maybe slightly heretical) definition. “Words… they seduce us in darkness and the mind clothes and fleshes them.”

    Some have suggested books should have trigger warnings. It can be tricky to do that without spoilers. There’s nothing graphic here, but abusive and manipulative relationships of various kinds are explored here. “I might pass for a girl in an allegory,

    ”.

    One interesting angle is that

    .

    There’s also the quotidian dishonesty of and betrayal by lifelong crooks, but that’s rather different.

    These factors contributed to why it didn’t feel Dickensian enough to me (it’s set in 1862). It seems mean-spirited to check these things out, but I did. If you’re fond of this book, or haven’t read it, skip this section.

    I was also distracted by a

    that never properly went off (

    ) and Waters’ rather odd way of introducing direct speech:

    She said

    Had I been enjoying it more, I would probably have been able to ignore these issues.

    More positively, some of the things that seemed improbable in part one turned out to have vaguely plausible explanations in part two, and as with many Victorian novels, guilt is a major theme, though here the twist is that few have more than a passing acquaintance with it.

    Overall, not a bad book, but nowhere near as enjoyable as I'd hoped. It was a page turner (though towards the end, I wanted to speed it up a bit), but it just didn’t speak to me – and I did listen.

    If I'd never heard of it or the book it’s based on, I would probably have given 4*, but my enjoyment was only 3*.

    • “Stitching dog skins onto stolen dogs, to make them seem handsomer breeds”. Not a crime I’d ever heard of!

    • “Servants grow sentimental over the swells they work for, like dogs grow fond of bullies.”

    • “How many stories does one man need?” The question relates to the uncle in his library, but it could be asked of many of the double and triple-crossing characters in the book.

    • “The silence, that my uncle cultivates… as other men grow vines and flowering creepers.”

    • “It is not the prospect of whipping that makes me meek. It is what I know of the cruelty of patience.”

    • “My obedience enrages her more than ever my passions did.”

    • He “carries his daring, his confidence, close and gaudy about him, like swirls of colour or perfume.”

    • “Even wax limbs must yield at last. to the heat of the hands that lift and place them.”

    • “A man in love with his own roguery.”

  • Emily May
    Aug 20, 2012

    You will probably love it, but even if you don't, it's highly unlikely you will have read anything else quite like it.

  • Adina
    Jan 09, 2017

    It seems that Fingersmith is one of those books that people want to read but are not doing it for some reason. I say this because I have 30 friends that added the title on their TBR shelf. I was also one of them as I've bought the paperback two years ago and I only convinced myself to read it now. I do not regret finally taking the plunge and I recommend my friends to go ahead and do the same because it is worth it. If the size is a deterrent than I can tell you that it does not feel like a 500+

    It seems that Fingersmith is one of those books that people want to read but are not doing it for some reason. I say this because I have 30 friends that added the title on their TBR shelf. I was also one of them as I've bought the paperback two years ago and I only convinced myself to read it now. I do not regret finally taking the plunge and I recommend my friends to go ahead and do the same because it is worth it. If the size is a deterrent than I can tell you that it does not feel like a 500+ pages door stopper.

    Fingersmith is a novel that is strongly based on its plot so I will not say too much about it here. Susan Tinder is an orphan raised by Ms. Sucksby in Victorian London house of schemers and thieves. One of the regular visitors to the house, Gentleman, makes Sue an offer she cannot refuse. She is asked to help him relieve a young woman, Maud, of her fortune. The young woman lives in a Gothic, secluded manor together with his strange uncle. Gentleman secured a temporary job with the uncle and the plan is for Sue to become Maud’s maid, help the thief seduce the young woman into marriage and after the fortune was secured to lock her in a mental hospital. Do expect some crazy plot twists, some of them quite preposterous. The book is structured in three parts, the first and last one narrated from Sue’s POV and the middle one from Maud’s.

    Sarah Waters is a wonderful storyteller and she manages to perfectly recreate the atmosphere of Victorian London. There is a bit of Dickens feel to this novel which drawn me even more into the adventures of the two young women.

    After reading this book I feel once again grateful that I live in this era and in a country where women have equal rights. The thought that women could have been sent to a mental institution by their husbands if they did not behave feels so scary and unbelievable to me. I read something similar in another book so this detail was probably not part of the author’s imagination.

    It was almost a 5 star for me but something was missing. Maybe some of the plot twists were a bit inconceivable, maybe the story was a bit melodramatic. Worth reading, nevertheless

  • Violet wells
    Aug 06, 2015

    This novel, for me all pastiche, pasteboard and mirrors, really irritated me principally because I could have read two good novels in the time it took me to wade through it.

    For a start it’s way too long. It’s not like Waters is serving up any profound insights into human nature or casting her eye over a wide panorama of human life. It’s essentially a novel that traffics in pastiche (plagiarism?) and is built on two startling plot twists (and as such tailor made for the screen). Waters overwrite

    This novel, for me all pastiche, pasteboard and mirrors, really irritated me principally because I could have read two good novels in the time it took me to wade through it.

    For a start it’s way too long. It’s not like Waters is serving up any profound insights into human nature or casting her eye over a wide panorama of human life. It’s essentially a novel that traffics in pastiche (plagiarism?) and is built on two startling plot twists (and as such tailor made for the screen). Waters overwrites every single scene, always telling us far too much, always throwing yet more wood on the fire which has the effect of continually tipping the emotional register close to melodrama. Whenever a character is in the grip of an emotion it’s like an entire orchestra strikes up operatic music. The dialogue is often ham Victorian slapstick (even the BBC couldn’t rectify this). She also endlessly repeats herself. Doesn’t help that to enable the plot twist she has to write the entire first part again from another perspective. This is often the problem with plot twists – they stifle all the blood out of the characters, they reduce characters to devices. The plot of this novel straitjackets all the characters. The men are pantomime villains. They have no inner life. Are simply wheeled on and off stage when required. The women aren’t much better. They have to do what the plot requires them to do. There’s never a sense that their natural feeling is creating the plot.

    Suspension of disbelief is impossible. So much in this novel is preposterous that it’s as far-fetched as Harry Potter except this isn’t a fantasy novel.

    It quotes or pastiches most of popular Victorian literature. Most notably The Woman in White. But also, of course, Dickens and George Eliot (Casaubon, the ogre of the library, is here compiling an inventory of pornographic literature).

    On a good note it did make me again appreciate the brilliance of Dickens who could do great plot twists without sacrificing character development.

  • Steve
    Dec 01, 2015

    Pigeons and pearls. Perceptions and palpability. I’d explain in detail, but that would spoil all the fun. Instead, as elliptically as I can, I’ll hint at their relevance with vague allusions. Sue was an orphan in Victorian London, raised among thieves. Despite the fact that in the hierarchy of larceny her lot were never more than petite bourgeoisie, Sue’s existence was not as Dickensian as it might have been. Baby farmer Mrs. Sucksby seemed to take a particular shine to Sue, and more or less rai

    Pigeons and pearls. Perceptions and palpability. I’d explain in detail, but that would spoil all the fun. Instead, as elliptically as I can, I’ll hint at their relevance with vague allusions. Sue was an orphan in Victorian London, raised among thieves. Despite the fact that in the hierarchy of larceny her lot were never more than petite bourgeoisie, Sue’s existence was not as Dickensian as it might have been. Baby farmer Mrs. Sucksby seemed to take a particular shine to Sue, and more or less raised her as her own. Then came a fateful day when Sue was 17. A “gentleman” of their acquaintance called on them with an intricate plan. Mr. Rivers, known to them simply as Gentleman, outlined his scheme to bilk a young lady the same age as Sue out of her inheritance. Maud, the young target, lived in a declining but still functioning country estate with a reclusive uncle. Sue was to pose as a lady’s maid and bolster Gentleman’s case for marrying Maud. Sue would then get a cut of the money. So you’re pretty sure you know what I mean by pigeon, right? As for “pearl,” you might imagine those shiny white things cast among swine, or, if you know Sarah Waters and her reputation for lesbian love stories, you might picture lustrous riches in more carnal terms. Part of what I like about this book is that, for reasons of reversed notions, I’m forbidden to elaborate. That means an easier review, benefitting you and me both.

    I can say that the book is broken into thirds. Sue narrates the first part, Maud gets a turn to tell her side of the story in the second, and Sue takes over again at the end. Keenly observed perceptions and perspectives are keys to making this work. But then, things are not always as they seem. As a rule, I like surprises, and Waters gives us some good ones. After reaching critical mass, though, I began reading each scene suspicious of more. To be honest, it became a distraction.

    As for the palpability, you expect that from Victorian England, right? Mind you, we’re not talking about Mayfair here. This is the seedier side, where the muck, the rough edges, and the hard feelings truly

    palpable. Separate from that, the rare moments of tenderness are also honestly felt. As are the relationships, predicated on what each thinks she knows about the other at any given time. I give Waters credit for making me think about surface relations, hidden agendas, and more visceral matters of the human heart.

    I suspect anyone who has read both this book as well as

    is constitutionally incapable of avoiding comparison. I know I can’t. For me,

    gets the nod in the novel-about-fascinating-women-set-in-Victorian-England run-off. It’s unforgettable for its plot, characters and writing. But this one shines, too. The writing is vivid, the language is colorful (even in the title – fingersmith for pickpocket), the plot is engaging, and the emotions are, uh – what was that word? – oh yeah, palpable.


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