by Sarah Waters
by Sarah Waters
It’s 1874 and Margaret Prior is a spinster at only 29. She’s trapped in an oppressive life with her mother and sees no escape. She’s grieving the loss of her father and the end of a recent romance. She decides to begin visiting Millbank Prison as a “Lady Friend” giving comfort to the female prisons there. She forms a particular attachment with the prisoner Selina Dawes, a spiritualist jailed when she hosts a séance that ends badly.
This one started out pretty slow for me. Fingersmith and The Little Stranger were both more enthralling at the start, but I hung in there and the pay off was worth it. The beauty of Waters’ writing is the way it sneaks up on you and completely envelops you. Just when you think you have a pretty good idea how things are going to unfold, you get blindsided, but in a good way! I actually thought I knew exactly how it was going to end and I was a bit disappointed with what I thought was coming. Luckily for me I was completely wrong.
Calling this a mystery or ghost story would be ignoring the depth of the book. It is a gothic tale, but it also covers so many different topics: the vast divides in the Victorian class system, depression, sexuality, the nineteenth century obsession with spiritualism and so much more! While crafting this story, Waters lulls you into a false sense of security. You focus on the obvious things, the horrific scenes from the jail, Margaret’s struggle with her feelings for others, all of which are fascinating. But the whole time you’re looking right, a complex tale is being built off to your left and result is intense.
BOTTOM LINE: Waters has an incredible gift for crafting stories. Even if the story starts out slow, the end makes it all worthwhile. If you’re a fan of gothic stories this one is a safe bet.
I read this as part of the R.I.P. Challenge.A few more excellent reviews: