Book Review – Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
First published, 2002
⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Now, I’ll be honest: I’m usually really intimidated by big books. I put this down to a Greta Garbo biography I read when I was about twenty. It was the size of a breeze block and it took me months to finish it.
However, when I saw Fingersmith on The BBC in 2005, I thought it was such a great story, I’d have to read the book, and then the thought left my head completely and I had a Binney Mad-Sandwich, see https://petrinabinney.com/2019/06/11/day-162-the-binney-mad-sandwich/
Anywho, I had a gap in my reading schedule and thought I’d look up Fingersmith. It is a large book. 548 pages. I took a few deep breaths. To be fair, when I opened it, I wondered how much of the story had been left out for the television drama, but by the time I was a third of the way through, I wondered how Ms Waters would pack in the rest of the story.
The story is told in three parts, alternating between the voices of the two main characters, Susan and Maud. The first section is told by Susan Trinder, a thief with a heart of gold who has been raised in the Borough by Mrs. Sucksby, a baby-farmer and Mr. Ibbs, a dealer in stolen goods. They live from hand to mouth, never leaving the rough streets and dangerous attitudes of 1860s London.
The disgraced son of a gentleman comes to Sue and her adopted family with a plan – Gentleman, as he is known, intends to marry a rich young heiress, Maud Lilly, take her fortune and pack her off to the madhouse. He will only be able to accomplish this villainy, however, with the help of someone close to Miss Lilly. As she currently has no chaperone, Gentleman’s plan rests on Sue becoming her maid and convincing Maud to leave her uncle’s house and marry him.
Maud has lived with her uncle at Briar ever since he removed her from the madhouse where she was born and her unfortunate mother died, and has trained her up to be a secretary. She is employed by old Mr. Lilly to read to him and his friends, but all is not as it seems, and when Gentleman proposes to marry her, Maud sees her chance for a new life away from Briar.
Fingersmith is stunningly well-written. Even though I knew what was coming (I’ve watched the DVD a fair few times), I was still startled by the intricacy of the storytelling and the depth of the characters. A wonderful read. Thrilling and beautiful. Can’t wait to read it again.