Charles Dickens meets lesbian love affair in Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. Two orphans with an interconnected fate find their way into each other’s lives, which ensues a tale of betrayal, love, violence, lies, and scheming. If you’re into the Victorian era but hate seeing a lack of representation in these classics – then this is the book for you.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. My critical rating came out at 3.8 stars, but I rounded up to 4 stars because I really think the good outweighs the bad.
I’ll share 7 reasons why I think you’ll enjoy Fingersmith – but to be fair, I’ll also share 3 reasons why this may not be the right book for you.
Let’s first get into the reasons you should read this book.
1. It Feels Like a Classic
If you love classic literature, you’ll love this. Though only about 20 years old, it feels like it’s been around for centuries. It is set in London in 1862, so it has that classic Charles Dickens Victorian-era atmosphere that is charming, sooty and full of twists and turns. Each character has a deep moral complex and the plot itself is weaved into a huge complicated spindly web which I personally loved. The writing is also very classic Victorian-era novel: straight to the point, a little bit experimental, but with the added 2000’s slang and swearing which was quite comical.
2. Scheming Plot
The plot of this book is purely based on scheming against other characters. It’s a bit like Gossip Girl meets Victorian literature (lol). I personally loved all the scheming and plotting and stealing, even if I did start to feel really bad for the characters eventually. But despite the slow pacing (which I’ll talk about later), you can’t ever say there’s a lack of a good plot in this book.
3. Great Female Characters
I talked about this on my Instagram stories a bit but I absolutely hated all the male characters in this book. They’re crusty, old, sleazy, gross men. In a way, that was annoying because it’s a bit of a stereotype, but it did make you appreciate the female characters a lot more!
And the female characters are great. They are not stereotypes; they’re deep, layered, complex, sweet but fierce, good people with some evil intentions and, best of all, interesting to read about.
I loved Sue and her deep sense of love, even if it took her a long time to discover about herself. I loved Maud and how she was set up to be simple but was really very clever, cautious and profound. Even Mrs. Sucksby, who has issues galore, was very interesting.
4. Lesbian Romance
To see a lesbian romance in a Victorian-era novel was very cool. I saw it going in that direction but didn’t think it would because… 1862, you know. But this relationship was SO GOOD. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t always beautiful, it wasn’t really rooted in good values – but it was there and it was mature and it was exciting and it was great to see that in this novel.
I will say, that besides this, the cast of characters isn’t really diverse (from my reading anyway) and there was definitely some fatphobic writing at times.
5. The Characters Go to the Bathroom!
This may seem like such a silly reason to read this novel, but I loved reading about the mundane details of the characters. Dressing, bathing, eating and using the bathroom! There is so much pee and poo chat in this novel; it is very entertaining. And it makes the characters feel real.
6. It Feels Real
On the back of my last point, this novel does feel real. It took me over a month to read this book, and the main chunk of the book is set in a 3 month period, so I almost felt like I was reading it in real-time with the characters experiencing it.
Besides that, I felt the characters had a really natural reaction to the chaos around them. It never felt that far-fetched to me. When something bad happened, a character didn’t have a film-like response. They reacted how I feel real people would react.
This is a good escapist read, but it also feels like you’re reading something real and mature. It really is unlike anything else I’ve read.
7. The Ending Fit
I was worried about the ending because you get closer and closer to the last page, and you still don’t have a resolution. But I thought the entire ending fit the novel, and I don’t think the author could have chosen a better way to end the book.
I loved the full circle of one character being in this library, and taking ownership of a lifetime of this strange form of abuse, and letting it empower them. I thought that was a great way to tie everything together.
Overall, I definitely recommend this novel and hope you pick it up if you’re considering it! I will also now share some things you should be cautious of & things I didn’t like.
There is a lot of graphic content in this book, and you should be aware of that before going in. I would say the big trigger warnings include:
- Mental illness
- Physical abuse
- Toxic relationship
If you’d like to see my full list of trigger warnings, click here. Some of these are quite alarming and the author isn’t always subtle – so please be cautious if any of these are harmful to you.
I am a huge fan of dual narratives; I use them in both of my novels! However, I didn’t think this book needed it – at least not to the extent to which it did.
This book is split into three parts. Part one and two are told from Sue’s perspective, and part two is told from another character’s. The issue with this is that instead of getting the next bit of the story in part 2, we just get part 1 retold to us in another character’s voice! Part of it was definitely necessary but we had 130+ pages of the first 180 pages!! That’s nearly double. I found that infuriating at times.
The pacing in this book is interesting. It starts off pretty slow, then completely picks up. By part two, you’re dragging through (since you already know the story) and part three is super easy to fly by. I think I read this part in 1-2 days, whereas the rest of the novel had taken me a month. But if you’re not into slow-paced books, save this for a time you have lots of energy.
Anyway – there you have it! My review of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters. It’s definitely a good book with lots to discuss. I can’t wait to chat about it with my book group 🙂