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. 😉