Victorian Prostitutes and Stirring Tea with Not-spoons

After what feels like a marathon stretch, I have finally finished the 895-page beast that is Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White.

And I loved it.

The story focuses on Sugar, a 19-year-old prostitute seeking betterment from her position. Enter William Rackham, unwilling heir to a perfume business. Other members of the cast include Agnes, William’s crazy wife; Henry, his pious brother; Emmeline Fox, determined to restore fallen women; and a ragtag bunch of other characters from Sugar’s fellow whores to the more esteemed of English Society. Oh, and Bodley and Ashwell, but they can speak for themselves.

Ok, it was daunting. I’m not sure why I thought a nearly 900-page book would be a breeze. The writing style is definitely very different, with an outspoken narrator who likes to remind you you’re reading a novel, multiple points of view, complex and extremely detailed storylines, locations and characters, all mingled with the dirt and depravity of Victorian England.

I started this book in March. After climbing the first 400 pages, I had to rest. The narrative is almost overwhelming with how painstakingly Faber has crafted these scenarios. They are intimately described, and unravelled at such a pace it’s like watching a film. A long film. I had to take a break. I read a few other novels: Timeless by Gail Carriger (because I simply couldn’t wait once I’d purchased it), and the Gretchen Lowell series by Chelsea Cain (Heartsick, Sweetheart and Evil at Heart).

Half way through, I wasn’t endeared to this book. I wanted to push to finish it to say I’d done it. Then I got back into it, and this time, everything clicked. Having now completed the marathon (because once I picked it up, it was impossible for me to put it down), I can’t praise it highly enough. I even adore its abrupt ending, which completely leaves the fate of these characters hanging. The story the narrator told is over and now it’s time to move on. Whatever happens next is up in the air.

I’m proud that I made it. This will certainly be a book I revisit in the future after I’ve overcome the book hangover.

Right now, I’m enjoying a cup of tea, stirred with a bone folder because I was too engrossed to head back into the kitchen, and trying to figure out what to read next. I’m thinking Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.

It also begs the question, dear reader, which book has dragged you through the wringer? Did you ever pick up something that was difficult to finish, but powered through to a satisfying end? Given you book hangover lately? Discuss.

Bonus points for including what a bone folder is and it’s use. šŸ˜‰



Filed under Writing

2 responses to “Victorian Prostitutes and Stirring Tea with Not-spoons

  1. Bone folders are for making books! …I think. You use them to create even and accurate folds in pages for binding. I’m pretty sure I promised to carve one for a friend, but have yet to do so.

    On the subject of not-spoons, I have a friend whose brother stirs his coffee exclusively with the ends of eye glasses. You are not alone. And the bone folder is likely to be cleaner.

    On the subject of book hangovers, Misfortune is a delightfully bizarre Victorian-esque novel that I once picked up for a couple dollars in a used bookstore because it sounded really, really bonkers. Basically, it’s about the life of a Victorian Eddie Izzard-type fellow and his very upset family. It took me for such a ride that I my book hangover lasted a full week. I kept looking around for cross-dressed men when I went out. It was an entertaining read, fat enough to take me longer than a day to finish, and didn’t have a lot of slow boring bits. It was good, in other words.

  2. I enjoyed reading your post, I also loved this book and enjoyed the BBC adaptation too. It led me to publish a Victorian fiction novel, but I have to say I could not in my wildest dreams match the ‘beast’ as you say, in either length or in such masterful narrative.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s