In praise of… Sarah Waters
This is a piece I’ve wanted to write for *ages*, but having not finished all her books I always felt it would be wrong to. Now I have, so I can. Hooray!
I loved Tipping the Velvet. Loved it. Every single sentance was like a petal falling off a rose. The evolution of Nan, one of my favourite charactres ever, from seaside town oyster girl to roving Tom in Victorian London giving speaches on human liberty in Hyde Park, via music hall star, rent boy and a whole other world was like watching a sapphic Amber StClare, thrust three hundred years into the future; just as beguiling and just as much fun, though slightly less thick!
Next came the equally bewitching Fingersmith. Again, set in the Victorian criminal underbelly this is the (slightly unbelievable but that doesn’t matter cos its brilliant)story of the adopted daughter of a gang of thieves and forgers living in LahnDahn who is used as part of an intricate plot to steal the fortune of a country lady, who is also an orpahn living with her uncle in a bizarre house in the middle of no where. The plot is full of more twists than a curly wurly, and although just as beautifully written, not half as accassable for me as Tipping the Velvet.
Affinity is probably my least favourite of Waters’ books, in fact I’d go as far to say it bored me stupid and if this was the first of hers I’d read I probably wouldn’t have bothered with the rest. A Victorian gentlewoman spends her time doing ‘good works’ like visting in prisons. She is captivated by the story of one paticular prisoner, the ghostly pyscic Selina. I’ll be honest, I skim read this one. Not even a fifth as good as Tipping the Velvet.
Night Watch, which I have just read, was fantastic. Taking a break from Victoriana Waters uses a lovely device of telling the story backwards, firstly in 1947, then 1944 and 1941. In this way she reveals the character’s raesons for being in certain situations. The book wouldn’t have been half as good without this device as it is deffinatly a character rather than a plot driven piece. Definately a ‘feminist’ writer, this book makes a stronger case for the legalisation of abortion than any other fiction book I’ve read in the past few years. It was also nice to see the difference in societies attitudes to homosexuality; the lesbian couples lived together, though in seppearate rooms whilst in the male prison the effeminate gay proisoners are known by female names and referred to as ‘she’. Waters does seem to recycle her charactres slightly, Kay, for example, was like watching Nan but born 100 years later. I really liked that though, as I have often wondered how different charactre types would ahve reacted to being presnet during different historical periods. I really really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
Her final book, that was, like her last three books, nominated for the Booker Prize, is so very very different. Anyone critisising Waters range as being all ‘lesbian gothic’ must have eaten a lot of words upon it’s publication. Narrated by (male and straight) Dr Faraday, this is the story of a aristocratic country family going to the dogs after the end of the second world war. Dr Faraday is one of the most intrigueing characters to be released upon the world and the ending of the book brought a real chill down my spine. Remeniscent of Turn of the Screw, this is a “ghost” story, that is really an exploration as to relationships between people. This is craftsmanship in writing at its very best- unreliable narrating to the point of beauty. Fans of Remains of the Day will love this book, as will fans of Henry James and Wilkie Collins.
I love Sarah Waters, and know I am not alone. As a writer of interesting, varied, sexy fiction that is not afraid to experiment or bend the rules she is up there with the best. Anyone with an interest in historical fiction should definatly seek her out.