Fingersmith (2002): Sarah Waters

★★★★

As the kind of person who likes to read the book before seeing the film, I was keen to read Fingersmith before the related Korean period drama The Handmaiden comes out on DVD. I’d held off reading it so far because it was the only Sarah Waters novel I hadn’t read and I was saving it as a treat. She’s a magnificent creator of character, atmosphere and dramatic tension, and all those qualities are present and correct in this dark, unexpectedly labyrinthine tale of secrets, schemes and lies in Victorian England.

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Affinity (1999): Sarah Waters

★★★★

Sarah Waters’s novels have impressed me so much more than I expected. Before I read The Paying Guests earlier this year, I had her down as an author who did naughty ladies in corsets, but now that I’ve actually started making my way through her books, I’ve realised how reductionist that was. Affinity has yet again proven her remarkable ability to capture a time and place, this time the curious world of Spiritualism in Victorian London. Deftly unsettling and almost Hitchcockian at times, it’s a fine piece of work, if somewhat more unstated than the tumultuous antics of Tipping the Velvet.

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The Paying Guests: Sarah Waters

★★½

I read this a while ago and, at the time, hadn’t read any of Sarah Waters’s books except The Night Watch and, according to LibraryThing, The Little Stranger, although embarrassingly I can’t remember a thing about that. The Paying Guests was yet another of those books stumbled over in my local Oxfam. Even it didn’t exert quite the power I’d been hoping for, it turned into an unexpectedly engaging thriller whose final pages kept me up past midnight in my impatience to find out what happened.

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Tipping the Velvet: Sarah Waters

One of the most mortifying moments of my teenage years – and there’s plenty of competition, believe me – was watching the BBC’s adaptation of Tipping the Velvet with my parents at the age of seventeen. I remember being utterly shocked (I had a very sheltered upbringing), although since it’s rated 15 it really can’t have been that scandalous. I’ve read two of Sarah Waters’s books since then, but I’d never quite had the courage to go back to this: her first and most celebrated novel. However, I found it in Oxfam yesterday, decided to give it a go at last, and have devoured it at high speed. Beautifully written, evocative, sexy and playfully transgressive, it deserves its status as a modern classic. I could claim I timed this post specifically to coincide with Pride, but that’s just a happy coincidence.

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