Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I’ve had a copy of this book on my shelf for a few months now but I kept putting off reading it because, after seeing so many glowing reviews, I was afraid I wouldn’t like it. Eventually I decided I would have to just get on with it, before I really was the only person left on earth who still hadn’t read it!

Somehow I had managed to avoid coming across any spoilers (and hadn’t seen the TV adaptation either) so was able to go into Fingersmith knowing almost nothing about the plot. As I don’t want to spoil the book for any of you who haven’t read it yet, all I will tell you is that Fingersmith is the story of Sue Trinder, an orphan raised by Mrs Sucksby in a den of thieves in Victorian London, and Maud Lilly, a young heiress who lives with her uncle at their country house, Briar. When an acquaintance of Mrs Sucksby’s, known as ‘Gentleman’, comes up with a plan to cheat Maud of her inheritance, Sue agrees to pose as a lady’s maid and help him with his scheme. And that’s all I’m going to say about it!

I was expecting a complex plot with lots of twists, and that was what I got. Unfortunately, I guessed what the first big plot twist was going to be! I was disappointed because I would have loved to have been shocked by it. (Actually, I think if only I’d read this a few years ago before I started reading so many Victorian sensation novels, it probably would have come as a shock.) I’m envious of those of you who didn’t see the twist coming because I can imagine it must have been stunning. Although this did have a slight impact on my enjoyment of the book, luckily there were plenty of other things that I did enjoy!

As I’ve probably mentioned before, the 19th century is one of my favourite periods to read about. I love the original Victorian classics and I love Victorian historical fiction too. Having read both this book and Affinity now, I can say that Sarah Waters has a real talent for portraying the atmosphere of Victorian London: the dark alleys, the narrow streets, the fog, the Thames. The locksmith’s shop at Lant Street, where Sue lives, is described particularly vividly.

Although I thought many of the characters in the book were very unlikeable, I could still find every one of them interesting, which must be a testament to Sarah Waters’ skills as a writer. I thought Gentleman was fascinating (funny how the word gentleman can be made to sound so sinister!). I liked the relationship between Sue and Maud too and the way the book switches perspective between the two girls, giving us an insight into each of their emotions, thoughts and motives, and allowing us to sympathise with them both.

I was really hoping I’d be able to gush about how much I loved this book, like the majority of people have. However, although I did enjoy it and couldn’t put it down at times (it didn’t feel like a 550 page book at all – I got through it in half the time it would normally take me to read a book this length), I don’t think it’s going to be one of my top reads of the year. Maybe it’s just that my expectations were a bit too high, which is not the fault of the book. Having enjoyed this one and Affinity, I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Sarah Waters’ books, starting with The Little Stranger for the RIP challenge.

13 thoughts on “Review: Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

  1. Susi (The Book Affair) says:

    I know what you mean about expectations being too high when you start a new book. Everyone talks about how brilliant a certain book/writer is, but you might not share their opinion and are then afraid to admit that. It happened to me a couple of times. But, nevertheless, Sarah Waters is my heroine and I absolutely adore every single one of her books. I look forward to reading what you’ll think of the ‘The Little Stranger’ – that book tends to divide opinions.

  2. Amanda says:

    This was my first by Waters and the unlikeable characters is what drove me to really dislike the book. The writing was excellent and it was the sort of book I couldn’t put down, but I just wanted everyone to die by the end. :/ I need to read something else by Waters now.

  3. Charlie says:

    I haven’t read this yet and would guess you’re far from last! Because of all the focus on Little Stranger I’d never actually come across this book until a few people reviewed it.

    I love Victorian history too, and I know what you mean about being able to figure out the plot. I suppose when things are supposed to be realistic of the day there are only so many ways of doing things.

    Maybe if I keep that in mind I might enjoy it more?

  4. josjottings says:

    You will not have been the only one left in the world not to have read it. I have not read it!

    But I did buy it today from a charity bookshop so I could read it.

    Lovely blog, and another UK person!

  5. Mae says:

    I was really surprised by how much I liked Fingersmith. I had low expectations (I usually do with heavily hyped/liked books) but I really enjoyed this. I also rarely like neo-Victorian so that was an added bonus. I did thought the ending was sweet though.

    • Helen says:

      I’m usually quite wary of heavily hyped books too, but Fingersmith really did sound like something I would love, so I was slightly disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected to.

      Neo-Victorian books can be excellent if done properly (Michael Cox and Charles Palliser are two examples of neo-Victorian writers I’ve enjoyed) but usually I do prefer to read the actual Victorian classics.

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