Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I spent a long time trying to think of a way to write a clever review of this. But, I'm going to try to just be sincere and honest about this book. That's becaues it's really, really great.

Nymeth, who writes sincere, honest reviews I could never DREAM of equalling in sincerity or honesty (and features an Arthur Rackham picture in her title bar - yay!), already reviewed this book. If I didn't feel supremely stupid just pasting in the text of her review, I would - because the central point I'm going to make is more or less identical: This book is beautiful, and I can't tell you anything about it, because that would take away part of it's beauty.
I guess, what I can do is try to dance around the book and tell you without telling you why you should read this book. Do you remember reading Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier? Or seeing The Sixth Sense? How about the Snape chapter in Harry Potter 7? You know how in each of those books, you have that moment where you KNOW that something is going to surprise you, but you nonetheless are COMPLETELY surprised when you find out what it is (unless you're Amanda, who figured it all out in, like, book 4)? Alright. In this book, that happens several times. Now, if that was the only difference, honestly I wouldn't have much to say about this book. A story that throws you for a loop is fun, but nothing you need to write home.

The difference is this: you know how when you DID figure out the end of Harry Potter, you felt all excited, and like you wanted to go out and tell people that you figured it out? Or like, when the Sixth Sense scene happens (I'm trying not to ruin any of these comparisons for people either, sorry for the vagueness), you know how you think "Wow! I was totally fooled! I totally didn't see that coming!" Stories with a twist in them tend to keep the reader at a distance. The relationship that is manipulated, producing that little thrill, is the relationship between the author and the reader. And that's cool. I'm not saying anything against it.

But Fingersmith, is special, because the expose doesn't offer you any sort of cathartic escape. By the time you get there, you're so in love with the narrator, you identify so closely with, that you don't get the thrill of a surprise, you get the same sickening thud of a surprise that the character gets. You feel what it feels like to have everything you know suddenly not be true, in the real world, in the world where that is a very, very painful thing. I have never read a book, even in all the classics I've read, that teaches you so much of what it feels like to be betrayed, as this book, or what it feels like to feel suddenly, irrevocably unmoored. (I've already said too much!)

But, that's the other thing - the reason that the plot is so effective is that this book is so much more than a plot. Reading Fingersmith is like reading Great Expectations, except every single character is as intense and striking as Ms Havisham. The writing is gorgeous, the characterization is beautiful, and when you complete the book, you think and think and stew and think in ways that most books don't leave you doing.

But, for all that, that's not what I loved most about this book.

This week, we went up to Borders, and I decided that, for once, I was going to buy a book. I know, that sounds stupid, but it's actually a big deal for me. I have a lot of trouble buying new, off the shelf books (this is why I can still remember the first book I ever bought new - Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, softcover, the Johnson edition). There's somethign about the broad shelves of a book store that terrifies me (it's even harder now that I'm married for some reason. Before I was married, it took me hours, but I could, in the end, pick a book to buy or checkout from the library). But, I wanted a book, I wanted somethign new, something, as I told Amanda, Slooshy (romantic, something that makes you feel warm and happy and sublime at the end, and ready to accept that the world can be beautiful again). I didn't buy Fingersmith (we already had it on our shelf), I bought a different book (which I'll be reading at some point), but the mood remained. I really needed a book that could make me feel like it is possible to live beautiful things, this week.

This. Book. Was. It. The central love story of the book, was one of the most beautiful, invigorating, sensuously pure love stories I have read in a book, in a very long time. It is the kind of love stories that gently peels back your callouses and reminds you of the holes you make in the hearts of those you love, the kind that lets you feel the invigorating pain of what it is to live. It is the sort of book that I will reread if I ever think that I would want to die.

Between this book and William Blake, it's been a beautiful, beautiful year to be alive. Thanks, Sarah Waters.


Amanda said...

Between you and Nymeth, I'm going to have to read this book very, very soon. Then I can be in the secret club, right?

Unknown said...

Yes. If you read the book, I'll send you the secret decoder ring.

L said...

Great review Jason. I'm all goose-pimply.

Christina said...

Jason, how do I always know which books you've reviewed? I didn't read Rebecca, but did catch the movie at the pivotal plot point, did see Sixth Sense and understood it, haven't read/seen Harry Potter so "no comment," however, I did see the end of Fight Club before I saw or heard anything about the movie so I figured out what had happened. My husband relies on me quite a bit to explain to him certain portions of movies, I had to explain what happened in Predator vs Alien. I'm not claiming to be soooo smart, just observant. For some reason, I remember quirky details and I have the intuition to focus on those shifting details. I instinctively look for the necklace that keeps popping in and out from under someone's shirt or the name changes. Just an odd quirk but that is helpful when doing edits, except for mine sometimes... I seem to catch what other miss and vice versa... A lot of fun evenings at our house with this talent :-/ ...

Ana S. said...

"By the time you get there, you're so in love with the narrator, you identify so closely with, that you don't get the thrill of a surprise, you get the same sickening thud of a surprise that the character gets."

Yes! So, so true. I loved your review. The love story really is one of the most beautiful I have ever read.

And thank you so much for the kind words :D

Mish said...

That's the perfect way to review Fingersmith without spoiling it.

I hear Tipping the Velvet is also fantastic. I've seen the movie, but have yet to read the book. It's on the List.

Amanda, you want the decoder ring!

Aimee said...

Wow, I think I'm in love with YOU after that review.

Unknown said...

Gota new comment on here, and realized I never responded to you guys, sorry!

Lula - thanks. There are many goose-pimples in the book, and I am sure they are more pimply than any you'd get from my review :)
Christina - (shifty eyes) What are you saying? No, I know, if I wrote on purpose, I'd be happy to say my reviews have a style of their own. However, it would be odd to say that one babbles in their own particular style...
Nymeth - It was my pleasure - I always love your reviews, and wish mine could (as a rule) make as much sense as yours. Usually I got back and read them later and have no idea what I was taling about.
Mish - I had no idea there was movies for any of these, but I find that apparently there is. Hrm...
Aimee - *blush*