By Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters is a very well-written, very well-constructed¬†pastiche of a Victorian novel. The plot is partly based in Collins’ Woman in White, partly on Dickens’ Oliver Twist — make of that what you want! An it’s also more or less a lesbian bodice-ripper, if I understand that term correctly.

  • Author: Sarah Waters
  • Title: Fingersmith
  • Pages: 632
  • Published: 202
  • Publisher: Virago Fiction
  • ISBN: 1573229725

Divided in three parts, the book shows what happens first from the point of view of Susan Trinder, then the same situations from the point of view of Maud Lilly, and ends with an equally long part that gives the ending, from the point of view of Susan Trinder again.

The execution of this complex construction is flawless. The language is equally flawless, except for the frequent use of the word ‘fuck’ as a swear-word, which I don’t believe to be authentic for the period. It gives a very modern feel to some sentences. The Mary Gentle touch, as it were.

On the other hand, it might well be authentic enough, since it is quite clear that the author has done a lot of research. Indeed, sometimes she’s maybe a little too glad to show all her her homework to us. And sometimes, particularly near the end, where Maud justifies what she is doing to Susan, I got the feeling that this was where Sarah Watters justifies herself to her own girlfriend.

Horrible things happen, sometimes too horrible to contemplate for long; but in the end Susan and Maud, whose falling in love with each other is described in a completely believable way, get each other very satisfactorily.

The plot is convoluted, but slowly uncovered to the reader in a completely lucid way. I was completely convinced by the way the author portrays the gullibility of both girls, who have both been raised to be what the book terms ‘pigeons’, but in a completely different way. There’s just one point where I thought that Maud, as portrayed, would never believe what she’s told — and she does believe it. Oh, well — I just read on.

And then I read the book a second time, straight through.

Still, there were a few things that made me pause. Now both lovers are women, the book feels original, fresh — intriguing. But the same story, told with the same words, about a man and a woman would perhaps be thought sentimental, and the protagonists (depending upon whether Maud or Susan would be turned into a man) could be considered regular pigs, not good enough for the other. I mean, I don’t suppose the author thinks the protagonists are excused because they’re women in love with each other?