Review of “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters

This book has more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco!

Imagine seeing the movie “Sixth Sense,” and then seeing several more like it right afterwards, and each time, never having any idea of how it would turn out. This will give you an idea of the roller coaster ride that is Fingersmith.

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Sue Strinder is a seventeen-year-old orphan raised by Mrs. Sucksby and Mr. Ibbs, who run a house in a dark and dirty section of Victorian London dedicated to petty thievery (fingersmithing) and scams. Mrs. Sucksby told Sue that her mother had been hanged for killing a man, and although the woman only paid Mrs. Sucksby to keep Sue for a month, here she still was, seventeen years later. Sue says, “What’s love, if that ain’t?”

One dark December night Richard Rivers arrives (he is known to the household as “Gentleman”) with a proposal for a get-rich scheme. Gentleman, 27 and debonair if only in a faux way, has heard of a girl Sue’s age, Maud Lilly, out in the country west of London, who is to come into great wealth once she marries. If Sue would come to the house as Maud’s maid, she could help Gentleman con Maud into eloping with him. Then Gentleman and Sue would deposit Maud into a mental asylum and make off with the money. Mrs. Sucksby is delighted by the plan, and helps convince Sue it will make them all happy if Sue would agree.

And now I can say no more about the plot. But let me tell you that you will not be bored at any point in this 511-page book. The author’s prose is so evocative of 1862 London, with its crowded streets and its poverty and perverts and picaresque rogues, that it will come alive for you and suck you down into its dark interiors, just as life at Maud’s country estate is so well limned you acquire a sense of what a wealthier existence could entail down to smoke and ashes from “the sputtering fire in the vast old grate.”

Scene from London in the 1860s by photographer James Hedderly

Scene from London in the 1860s by photographer James Hedderly

How purely the author gets to the heart of the matter! Listen to this exchange between Richard Rivers and Maud:

“‘You are a lady,’ he says softly, ‘and young, and handsome.- I don’t speak from gallantry now, you know that. I say only what is true. You might do anything.’

‘You are a man,’ [Maud answers.] ‘Men’s truths are different from ladies’. I may do nothing, I assure you.’”

There are many startling examples of well-crafted prose in this book that I cannot share for fear of compromising the plot. How precisely the author captures the sharp, bitter hurt of betrayal! How movingly she conveys tenderness and innocence, and how chillingly depravity. There are as many different gradations of cruelty and evil in this book as there are of warmth and love. Moreover, there isn’t a cardboard character in the lot; they are as complex but real as you could wish for in a book.

Evaluation: Sorry I can’t tell you much about why this is such a good book, but of course, that’s part of why it’s so good! Get this book and get ready to stay up late, to gasp, to cringe, to swoon, and to become a rabid fan of yet another wonderful author from the U.K.

Rating: 4.5/5

Published by Riverhead Hardcover, 2002

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30 Responses to Review of “Fingersmith” by Sarah Waters

  1. diane says:

    I liked this book a lot! I can tell you did as well. Tipping the Velvet was also good, and I have Little Stranger and Affinity – to read.

  2. Amanda says:

    Need to read, need to read, need to read…maybe next month…

  3. Sandy says:

    This should be required reading for every bibliophile on earth. That is how much I loved this book. For grins, rent the BBC version of the movie. Still, it isn’t near the masterpiece as the book. Sarah Waters for Pope!

  4. JoAnn says:

    What a perfect image to go with the book! Fingersmith has got to be one of the best plot-driven novels around. I also enjoyed The Night Watch, but not nearly as much as this.

  5. Darlene says:

    Great review. I really want to read this one. Any book that can suck me into it’s dark interiors is definitely a book for me!

  6. Aarti says:

    I read this one late last year with Kelly and really enjoyed it, too! I also enjoyed Affinity. I must read more by Waters, obviously. I’m glad you enjoyed this one, too, though I agree that it’s really hard to review!

  7. bermudaonion says:

    I love twists and turns in a book. They create just the suspense I need to keep me turning those pages. This book sounds fantastic!

  8. i love the metaphor you used with lombard and the plot twists! i have a soft spot for san francisco. 🙂 i haven’t heard or read about this one anywhere–thanks for the wakeup call. i’m always ready for a little intrigue and victorian london!

  9. Barbara says:

    Victorian London and crafty con artists – this one is definitely for me. Thanks for the heads-up.

  10. Alyce says:

    I just got this from the library and it’s sitting on my coffee table, so I haven’t actually read your review yet. I see that you gave it a high rating though, so that makes me even more excited to read it. 🙂

  11. Tara says:

    I Loved, Loved, Loved this book! Lucky you getting to read it for the first time.

  12. Julie P. says:

    SOLD! I have to read this one!

  13. Ti says:

    What a great review! Makes me wanna run out to get a copy. I haven’t read and of her work yet. I don’t know what I am waiting for exactly as everyone says great things about her writing.

    Oh yeah, maybe it’s that Moby Dick thing that’s holding me back…. 4 more chapters. Woohoo!

  14. Belle says:

    Sold! or at least, I just checked my library and placed a hold on this one. It sounds wonderful. Plus, I love your picture of Lombard Street.

  15. Nymeth says:

    So glad you enjoyed it! Welcome to the Fingersmith Club 😀 I completely agree with this: There are as many different gradations of cruelty and evil in this book as there are of warmth and love. Moreover, there isn’t a cardboard character in the lot; they are as complex but real as you could wish for in a book.. Perfectly said!

  16. Melody says:

    I’ve heard nothing but raves about this book, so I’ll definitely read this in the very near future!

  17. Jenny says:

    “Imagine seeing the movie “Sixth Sense,” and then seeing several more like it right afterwards, and each time, never having any idea of how it would turn out.”

    Reading this made me laugh so hard, because when I first watched Sixth Sense, I was alone at home, and after the first fifteen minutes I couldn’t take the suspense and I rang up my sister and made her tell me the end. I liked Fingersmith SO MUCH MORE on rereading it than I did reading it the first time. I can’t take so many surprises. 😛

  18. softdrink says:

    I think Waters is a genius at mood and setting. While I’m not always crazy about the book (The Little Stranger didn’t do much for me) I still love how she conveys the time period.

  19. Trisha says:

    This was my First Book of Vacation this past week, and I absolutely adored it. I had difficulty truly reviewing it as well because you just don’t want to give away anything. I barely wanted to give their names for fear of spoiling the story.

  20. I’ve never heard of this book before but now you have me intrigued !! I’m off to send the sample to my Kindle ! Thanks for the review !

  21. Lisa says:

    I haven’t read any Waters yet and I hear so many good things about this one, I figure it’s the place to start. Or the one to build up to. I can’t decide.

  22. stacybuckeye says:

    I think this may be the first Sarah Waters I try. Great review.

  23. Margot says:

    Wow, you really like this one. It seems like you’ve been on a roll with good books lately. I’m going to have to find this book or the BBC version because I’m now curious about how it turns out.

  24. Esme says:

    You have me wanting to read this. Onto my wish list it goes.

  25. Jenners says:

    I don’t know how much longer I can wait to read this … everyone just loves it so much!!! I have a few obligations I need to get out of the way and then I shall read this! I’m all atingle with excitement!

  26. You got my attention with the pic of Lombard Street, then the comparison to the twists and unexpected turns in The Sixth Sense … I trust your recommendations to not need any more about the plot or characters –> I’ll read FINGERSMITH!

  27. I LOVED FINGERSMITH ….so glad you enjoyed it too. Great review. I just loved this opening.
    “This book has more twists and turns than Lombard Street in San Francisco!”

    I also know I am a Sarah Waters fan hands down!
    Wisteria

  28. Pingback: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters « Page247

  29. Pingback: [TSS] Incoming! The Library Edition - Ms. Bookish

  30. Pingback: Book Review: Fingersmith « ReviewsbyLola's Blog

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