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.