Friday, April 5, 2013

FINGERSMITH by Sarah Waters - Book Review

Rating: 2/5 - Got to the end and wondered why I bothered.

Title: Fingersmith

Author: Sarah Waters

Format: trade paperback

Published: 2002

Genre: Historical Crime Fiction

Publisher:  Virago Press

Landed in my hands: borrowed

Summary (from the cover blurb):

London 1862. Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, grows up among petty thieves — fingersmiths — under the rough but loving care of Mrs Sucksby and her ‘family’. But from the moment she draws breath, Sue’s fate is linked to that of another orphan growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away.


Here’s a book that makes me wonder what’s wrong with me. Fingersmith was shortlisted for two hefty literary prizes: The Man Booker and The Orange Prize. So why don’t I find it interesting? I had lots of time to devote to it, I wasn’t distracted. I picked it up at the pinnacle of my lazy summer...

Yet it never grabbed me.

This is not to say it didn’t have its moments, but I was a hundred pages in before I really cared what happened either way with the story. The narrative is dense and brooding, the worldbuilding repetitive and depressing. Mind you, the dirty corner of London that is depicted doesn’t exactly bring to mind delightful thoughts of ease — it’s a hard world, inhabited by hard people — so perhaps the atmosphere seeped into my thoughts a little too deeply and coloured my view of the novel?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that it had its moments where I sat up and paid closer attention, where action began to move the story along (there’s a wonderful bait and switch which took me completely by surprise). These moments, unfortunately, were few and far between. I felt I was being subjected to the lengthy description of every sigh, every shadow, every particle of dust hanging in the air...

It was... drab.

It’s not that the novel didn’t have its good points. The dialogue was well done, the language definitely enhanced the historical worldbuilding — I wasn’t always familiar with the terms used by the characters at first, but the context was so clear that diction was quickly picked up, and I appreciate that. There’s skill in writing a sentence that a reader can barely recognize, and yet execute it in such a way that no meaning is lost. Good job, Ms Waters.

And yet “lengthy” is probably the most succinct critique I can provide. Fingersmith was long. Weighing in at 548 pages, I was joking it was the novel that never ended. The resolution was drawn out such that the last forty pages was sucking my energy, and (as per the rating) I wondered why I hadn’t simply put it down earlier.

This novel caught my attention via recommendation, and yes, it’s out of my usual realm of genre reads. For this reason, unfortunately, I’ll be closely analyzing what is recommended to me in the future, and will likely be going with my gut before jumping headfirst without further inspection.

Meh. They all can’t be winners for everyone.

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