Thursday, September 27, 2012

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:


(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

This author is very talented. I've read several of her books, but not this one. sounds good.

Kat @ NoPageLeftBehind said...

I've read Fingersmith and really enjoyed it. I have The Night Watch sitting on my shelves - based on your review I have to add this to my Waters collection too!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Diane - I've liked some of her's more than others, but I haven't been disappointed yet.

Kat - I have The Night Watch on my shelf too. I may have to save it for RIP next year.

Jenny said...

It's good to hear that this improves after a slow start. I've tried reading it twice, and both times the slow start made it impossible for me to finish. :/

Nikki Steele said...

Sounds like a wonderful one. I'm still astonished by how beautiful that first cover is. Do you think it fits the book itself?

Jenners said...

I'm excited to read The Little Stranger finally. I'm sure I'll get to this one some day as well.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenny - I felt like it went really slow at first. I stuck with it and eventually it picked up.

Nikki - I do, the whole book has a very creepy feel to it. I think the first cover fits better than the second.

Jenners - The Little Stranger was my first Waters book. It's much more subtle than this one and I really enjoyed it.