I first read Fingersmith five years ago when I was in my second year of University. I had very little memory of the novel and have been meaning to revisit it for years, however a recent blog post inspired my rereading and gave me the push to actually take the book off the shelf and open the pages.
Fingersmith tells the story of Sue Trinder, an orphan growing up in a den of thieves and fingersmiths in 1860s London. Sue is sheltered from the harsh realities of this rough upbringing by Mrs Sucksby, who lovingly cares for Sue and ensure no harm comes to her…but Mrs Sucksby has an ulterior motive. Several miles away in a large and lonely house in the English countryside lives another orphaned girl, Maud, and soon the lives of these two girls are to become intertwined in a twisted plot of love and deception. Throw in a roguish ‘Gentleman’, an eccentric, malicious old uncle and a very disturbing mental hospital and you have an interesting journey through Victorian Britain.
I have incredibly mixed feelings about this novel, which in turn has led to me feeling somewhat indifferent to it. For me it read like a new novel, especially as I remembered virtually nothing of the narrative, which is often a blessing when returning to a book as it is great to have some suspense, and the novel did offer this. The novel is told in three parts, the first from Sue’s perspective, the second from Maud’s, before we return back to Sue and discover her fate. When reading the first part I began to see some subtle similarities to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, which is a novel I love; sadly with this in mind I found I became somewhat frustrated with Fingersmith for not being as intriguing as the former novel. Yes, between each narrative switch we were left on an interesting cliffhanger and I wanted to discover the outcome, however I wasn’t tearing home to return to the novel and race through the pages. In fact by the end of the novel I was just eager to finish it nd move on to a new read.
Before I start sounding too negative, there were many parts of the novel that I enjoyed, and you certainly cannot fault Waters for creating interesting characters and bringing Victorian Britain to life, but this was not the novel for me. I much preferred The Night Watch and I have heard good things about Waters’ latest novel, The Little Stranger, so this has by no means put me off her work and I am sure I will return to her again one day. Despite all this Waters made some fantastic observations about the power of literature and words that truly made me smile:
‘Terrible plots? Laughing villains? Stolen fortunes and girls made out to be mad? The stuff of lurid fiction! We have a name for your disease. We call it a hyper-aesthetic one. You have been encouraged to over-indulge yourself in literature; and have inflamed your organs of fancy.’
I cannot imagine living in a world where women were accused of being hysteric at every opportunity and the majority of the blame was apportioned to literature. Imagine never being able to read…or only being able to read books deemed suitable for your delicate nature.
But my favourite quote of the novel regards words in general and it is just a beautiful description of the power of words:
But words, Hawtrey, words – hmm? They seduce us in darkness, and the mind clothes and fleshes them to fashions of its own.’