Fingersmith cover"She has made a fiction of herself!"

Sarah Waters's Fingersmith revolves around a Victorian heist: a charming con man aims to marry Maud Lilly, a reclusive and naive heiress, then commit her to a madhouse and steal her fortune. Seventeen-year-old Sue Trinder, an orphan who grew up among a band of London thieves, is drafted to play the role of Maud's persuasive maid. She'll facilitate Gentleman's courtship of Maud and insinuate herself into Maud's confidence, where she would help squash any doubts Maud might have about the love affair. In serving and becoming close to Maud, however, Sue finds that both her mark and her feelings toward her are more complicated than she expected. What ensues is a Victorian sensation novel's worth of twists and dirtiness and melodrama. And, also, love.

Fingersmith consists of layers of stories: secrets and lies, histories and retellings, interpretations and misinterpretations, the constricted narratives of bloodlines and diagnoses. Stories manipulate and control the listener; they're tools of the trade for the thieves and liars that populate Sue's world. But even the tellers of stories can be tricked by their own narratives. Tellers, convincing themselves, can create their own blindspots. Waters plays with those gaps in the construction of her intricate plot. Even though I saw the BBC adaptation and so knew the twists (though it was years ago, and I was fuzzy on some of the details), I still enjoyed reading the book, because Waters choreographs her subterfuges elegantly. For all the awfulness in this book--and it's full of poverty, abuse, and injustices of all kinds--it's still utterly gripping, in true sensation novel fashion.

In defense of the timelessness of the written word, as opposed to the blunt and inescapable context provided by photographs, Maud's uncle says at one point, "But words, Hawtrey, words—hmm? They seduce us in darkness, and the mind clothes and fleshes them to fashions of its own." It's part of a debate the characters are engaged in, but it's also a wink to the thematic heart of this book--to the stories and the lies being woven, and (mis)interpretations and assumptions of the characters and of the reader. The in-book seduction of characters, the out-of-book seduction of the reader. Waters knows what she's doing. And that made this an excellent read.

Spoilers follow! )
cover shows a jockey riding a horse "There are tales that are remembered and tales that are forgotten, but all tales are born to be told. They demand it; the dead become tales in order to live. Their eternal life is in your mouth."

Tales and eternal life are somewhere near the core of C. E. Morgan's epic The Sport of Kings. The novel is about horses and race and gender and land and family and desire and evolution, but all those concepts circle around the idea of survival: what remains, and where do we--with our lives, so short and yet the longest thing we will ever experience--fit in with the hope of something bigger than ourselves. Or something big enough to make ourselves feel whole.

The first interesting thing about this book is the dedication: "This book is dedicated to the reader." I liked the framework and the relationship this establishes. This book is for me, and it's also for you, whoever you are, whoever you are who picks it up, opens it, reads it. It's not for someone else. Despite this book's intelligence and erudition, it's not dedicated to someone more intelligent or more erudite than you. It's dedicated to you, and if you dedicate yourself back to it, this book will meet you where are you are. Morgan has finished her work, and now the reading of it, the challenge of it, the analysis of it, the moral urges it provokes, those all belong to the reader and no longer to her.

Read more... )

May 2017

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